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Greece eyes repeat elections after ballot stalemate

Agence France-Presse
Greece may repeat elections after weekend polls left no single group strong enough to take power

ATHENS – Greece faced the prospect of repeat elections after an anti-austerity protest vote in weekend elections fragmented the country’s political scene, leaving no single group strong enough to take power.

The conservative New Democracy party’s sharply reduced score of 18.85% made it the largest party, but Monday’s meetings between party chief Antonis Samaras and other party leaders failed to break the stalemate.

The nationalist Independent Greeks and the Communist party refused even to meet with him, while Samaras himself had already ruled out dealing with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, newly arrived in parliament.

“I did whatever I could to secure a result but it was impossible,” Samaras said in a televised address after a day of separate meetings with other leaders.

“I informed (head of state President Carolos Papoulias) and returned the mandate,” the 60-year-old leader said.

The task of a forming a new government now falls to the leftist Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras.

The Leftist parties have said they will try to form their own coalition, after an electorate fed up with two years of tough austerity measures boosted their parliamentary presence.

Syriza will get his chance to form a government at 2:00 pm (0800 GMT) on Tuesday, state television NET reported. He will be summoned by Papoulias and given three days to form a government.

“We will exhaust all possibilities to reach an understanding, primarily with the forces of the Left”, said Tsipras.

But the parliamentary arithmetic is complicated by ideological differences among the anti-austerity parties.

Tsipras has said he would seek a left-wing coalition to reject the “barbaric” measures of the loan agreement that saved Greece from fiscal collapse.

He has said he would tax wealth to help the poor.

The parties opposing Greece’s loan agreement with the EU and the IMF, the so-called memorandum, can muster a narrow 151-deputy majority in the 300-seat parliament.

The problem is they are from the far-left and the far-right: their own differences preclude a deal.

“The smaller parties that ran an agenda that was anti-memorandum… are not going to join the two bigger parties so the problem is, we’re probably going back to elections,” said Spiros Rizopoulos, head of the Athens-based PR company Spin Communications.

If no party can form a government by May 17 new elections will be called.

This kind of political deadlock is the last thing Greece needs, particularly at this time.

The country is in its fifth year of recession with unemployment at 20%.

And under the terms of the bail-out deal agreed with international lenders by June it has to have found another 11.5 billion euros ($15 billion) in savings over the next two years.

It also needs to redeem maturing debt in a week’s time and jumpstart an ambitious privatisation programme that is badly behind schedule.

“Greece will have to learn to form coalition governments during periods of crisis such as this,” said political analyst Thomas Gerakis.

In November, the socialist government collapsed and squabbling Greek parties had to scramble together a special government coalition led by technocrat Lucas Papademos to ratify a new eurozone bail-out and negotiate a landmark deal.

That deal slashed the country’s short- and mid-term debt of more than 350 billion euros by nearly a third.

On Monday, Greece’s international creditors warned that whoever emerges to lead the country will be bound by its existing reform commitments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the chief proponent of austerity as the main way out of the eurozone crisis, said it was “of utmost importance” that Greece stuck to its reform path while conceding this was “difficult”.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said Brussels “hopes and expects that the future government of Greece will respect the engagements that Greece has entered into.”