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Greek talks on forming a government fail; new election likely

Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos can't persuade Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party to team up in a coalition.

May 12, 2012|By Anthee Carassava, Los Angeles Times
  • Newspapers covering Greece's political stalemate are displayed at a kiosk in Athens.
Newspapers covering Greece's political stalemate are displayed… (Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP/Getty…)

ATHENS — Greeks braced for another trip to the ballot box next month after weeklong crisis talks aimed at forming a coalition government collapsed Friday.

The repeat election will probably take place June 17, senior government and party officials said.

The breakdown came after socialist PASOK party leader Evangelos Venizelos failed to persuade Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party to team up in a coalition government after Sunday's elections gave no party overall control of Parliament.

Venizelos, a former finance minister and chief architect of a crippling austerity plan that has seen Greek poverty and incivility rise as living standards and hopes for the future have faded, was the last of three party chiefs to take a stab at forming a multiparty alliance in a desperate bid to head off another election and abandonment of the euro.

"It is not Syriza that refused this proposal," Tsipras said in a nationally televised address after the talks. "It is the Greek people who did so with their vote on Sunday."

Under the constitution, President Karolos Papoulias will step in to convene a meeting of party leaders as early as Saturday. They will take a last stab at forming a unity government, and if that fails Papoulias will announce another round of elections.

Sunday's results plunged Greece into a new level of political turmoil, leaving the crisis-hit country without a government at a time it desperately needs one.

International creditors have warned that Greece's failure to adhere to a fiscal adjustment program could imperil a multibillion-dollar bailout agreement keeping the country afloat. On Thursday, European creditors withheld $1.3 billion of a $6.8-billion installment because of the political uncertainty.

Hope of a breakthrough rose Thursday after Venizelos sought to reach a deal with a moderate leftist leader bent on keeping Greece in the 17-nation Eurozone that shares the euro, but pursuing a "gradual disengagement" from the austerity crusade that Germany has pushed as a cure to the continent's growing debt woes.

That agreement was aimed at reeling in the support of the young, brash Tsipras, who rode a wave of anger over the austerity measures to win 17% of Sunday's votes, emerging as the head of the second-biggest party and becoming the kingmaker of the left.

"Beyond the official meetings, there has been a lot of backroom jockeying, several telephone calls placed to him to get him to agree and avoid elections," said a senior party official privy to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Late Friday, after an hourlong heated exchange with Venizelos, Tsipras emerged with an emphatic "no."

"We're not party to these backroom games," he said. "Neither do we want to provide a leftist alibi to a coalition government that wants to continue implementing measures which the people have voted down."

Despite the dire repercussions threatening the nation, Greeks seem resolute in their support for Tsipras and his Syriza party.

A poll published this week showed Syriza would garner the largest vote in a repeat election, 27%. That would not be nearly enough for an outright majority in Parliament, however, leaving the country without a government once more.

Carassava is a special correspondent.

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