Conservative Leader Gets Three Days to Form Greek Coalition Government

Posted June 18th, 2012 at 1:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Greek conservative leader Antonis Samaras will have three days to form a coalition government, after his pro-bailout party won the most seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The conservative New Democracy party won 30 percent of the vote to take 129 of the 300 seats in parliament, including the 50-seat bonus given to the party with the most votes.

The radical leftist, anti-bailout Syriza party came in second with 71 seats, while the pro-bailout PASOK Socialists won 33 seats – likely enough to help form a ruling coalition.

A meeting between Samaras and Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras failed to lead to an agreement. Tsipras says his party will not join the coalition, but will continue their role as the anti-bailout opposition.

“There must be a government soon and soon we must take on the very significant role of the national opposition, so that we can monitor the government and at the same time, history and the people will judge their strategy and their solutions as well as ours.”

Samaras said he would continue attempts to form a coalition.

“Mr. Tsipras is not willing to participate in such a government of such a coalition. I believe that the government should immediately be formed. It is something that is required and as I stated – by the developments, by the economic situation, by the reality and by the vote of the Greek people. So, that's what we are trying to do.''

Samaras later met with the leader of the socialist Pasok party, his most likely coalition partner. He was also expected to hold talks with other possible allies throughout the day.

Interim Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos said Monday that a new government needs to be sworn in as soon as possible, adding that the problems of the country “cannot wait for very long.''

In a joint statement, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the European Union looks forward to working with the new government and supporting efforts to put Greece's economy on “a sustainable path.”

Germany – Europe's biggest economy and a major contributor to Greece's two multi-billion-dollar bailouts – suggested Greece could get more time to comply with sharp spending cuts tied to the rescue funds.

Ben Wellings, a European analyst at the Australian National University, told VOA that Germany seems to be softening its long-held stance of opposing renegotiating the terms.

“That is to say, there may be longer for the Greeks to pay back, which would have the impact from the German point of view, and presumably from the Greek center parties' point of view, of easing a little the cuts that have to be made, or at least spreading them out over a longer period, and thereby lessening the impact on the citizens of Greece.”

New Democracy has promised to renegotiate the harsh austerity conditions demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party, had called for annulling the austerity package altogether, a decision that could have forced Greece to leave Europe's common currency.

Adian Foster, head of financial markets research at Hong Kong-based Rabobank International, told VOA it makes sense for Greece to revisit the lending terms.

“I think there is, as I say, a broader acceptance around Europe that it has been overly stringent. But I do think that with the election of these pro-austerity or pro-European support package parties I think the funding troika – the creditor troika – will be getting more of its own way than would have been the case if indeed the more left-leaning parties had won the Greek election.”

In Washington, a White House statement reiterated that “as President Obama and other world leaders have said, we believe that it is in all our interests for Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitment to reform.”

Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said the election result is good for Greece and the European Union as a whole.

“I am absolutely convinced that this reinforces the euro and that soon Green will feel the effects of this decision that all citizens have taken.”

Sunday's vote came after an election last month in which no party secured enough votes to form a government.

The monetary crisis in Greece, which first exploded in 2009, set off a chain reaction across Europe. Greece is now in its fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiraling to above 22 percent. Opinion polls show that Greeks overwhelmingly favor remaining in the euro, but are just as opposed to the austerity drive.