Socialists, conservatives in talks on forming government
Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos met with his conservative counterpart on forming a government on Friday, as the left-wing Syriza coalition maintained that Greece must abandon austerity measures required by an EU-IMF bailout.
AP - Former finance minister and socialist party head Evangelos Venizelos met Friday with election winner Antonis Samaras, the leader of Greece’s conservative party, in a last ditch effort to form a coalition government in the crisis-struck country.
Both leaders know that failure to agree a deal could see Greece hold fresh elections next month that could put the country’s membership of the euro at risk.
Samaras, whose New Democracy party suffered a big loss in support in Sunday’s elections and failed to win enough seats in parliament to form a government, said there was still a chance for a deal.
“We are fighting for a government to exist -- and there is still hope this can happen,” he told his deputies in a speech after his meeting with the former finance minister.
Venizelos’ PASOK party was hammered by furious voters, who blame it for its handling of the financial crisis. Its third place was its worst electoral showing in nearly 40 years, giving it just 13.18 percent and 41 seats in the 300-member Parliament.
Even if Samaras and Venizelos agree, however, they do not hold enough seats in Parliament combined to form a government unless another party joins them. Election runner-up Alexis Tsipras, whose Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza, made massive gains to come second in Sunday’s vote, has insisted he cannot participate in any government that wants to continue with the harsh austerity -- a condition of Greece’s international bailout.
The country has been dependent since May 2010 on billions of euros of rescue loans from other European Union countries that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund. In return for the funds that are keeping Greece functioning, Athens has imposed repeated rounds of spending cuts and tax hikes, leaving the country mired in a fifth year of recession, while the jobless rate increases by hundreds of people each day.
Both Samaras and Venizelos say Tsipras’ demands that terms of the bailout agreement be canceled would lead to disaster, with Greece being forced out of the euro. Tsipras, whose party won 52 seats, insists European leaders could be persuaded to see that the formula of the bailout is not working, and is ruining the country’s chances of recovery.
Samaras accused the 38-year-old Tsipras of being irresponsible.
“The problem is that Syriza won second place but cannot manage its responsibility. The day after the election it had to admit it had no program,” he said.
“We are doing everything we can to have a government, because there must be a government,” Samaras said. “Even if that means a (vote) of tolerance from Syriza. But there cannot be a party of power without the responsibility of power.”
There was a glimmer of hope for a coalition deal Thursday night, after Venizelos met with Fotis Kouvelis, a smaller left-wing party whose 19 seats in the 300-member parliament would be more than enough to form a government if added to New Democracy’s 108 seats and PASOK’s 41.
Venizelos said he and Kouvelis were “very, very close in our views.”
However, Kouvelis has insisted he wants a broad coalition that would include more parties. He also risks being branded as a left-wing traitor if he helps the pro-austerity parties to govern without Tsipras’ party.
Samaras also indicated a deal was possible.
“Our only condition is that we remain in the euro. And the proposal made by Mr. Kouvelis is close to our own,” he said. “So there is a basic agreement. The problem is that Syriza is not taking up its responsibility ... and is preparing for elections.”
An opinion poll published late Thursday indicated that Tsipras’ party would come first with nearly 28 percent of the vote in a new election -- up from 16.8 -- winning 128 seats.
The Marc survey for private Alpha TV gave New Democracy 20.3 percent and 57 seats, and showed the extremist right-wing Golden Dawn declining to 5.7 percent, with 16 seats.
The May 8-9 nationwide survey was the first published after Sunday’s vote.
It gave no margin of error.