World Bulletin / News Desk
Greece's president met party leaders on Sunday in a final bid to cobble together a coalition and avert a repeat election, but the talks immediately hit an impasse and looked set to fail because of deep splits over an EU/IMF rescue plan.
Leaders of the three biggest parties, each of whom had failed to form a government in the past week, convened at the presidential mansion, where President Karolos Papoulias had a last opportunity to implore them to form a coalition before he must call another election, probably in mid-June.
The meeting broke up after less than two hours of talks, and leaders said the discussions had hit a snag, though they expressed the hope that difficulties could be overcome.
"Even now, despite the impasse at the meeting we had with the president, I hold on to some limited optimism that a government can be formed," said Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose PASOK party finished a humbling third in Sunday's election. But he warned time was running out.
"The moment of truth has come. We either form a government or we go to elections."
His conservative counterpart, Antonis Samaras, said talks to form a government were continuing but blamed the radical leftist SYRIZA party for blocking efforts to form a coalition.
Samaras placed first in the election last week but fell far short of an outright majority, punished by voters for backing a bailout package tied to harsh austerity cuts in the heavily indebted country.
SYRIZA, which campaigned against the bailout, finished a surprise second in the vote.
Both Samaras's New Democracy and Venizelos' PASOK party - which have taken turns to rule Greece for nearly four decades and jointly negotiated a bailout that requires deep cuts in public spending - are eager to avoid facing the voters again.
Polls since the election show the balance of power tipping even further towards opponents of the bailout, who were divided among several small parties but now appear to be rallying behind SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras, a 37-year-old ex-Communist student leader.
If the vote is repeated, Tsipras's SYRIZA party is tipped to place first, winning an automatic extra 50 seats at the expense of Samaras.
If the next government rejects the bailout, EU officials say that would mean the end of loans that Athens needs to stave off bankruptcy and its possible exit from the euro single currency.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Greeks reject the bailout but want to keep the euro. As many as 78.1 percent want the new government to do whatever it takes to keep their country in the currency, a poll by Kappa Research for To Vima daily showed.
Samaras and Venizelos have offered a broad coalition that would include SYRIZA and try to renegotiate some bailout terms, but Tsipras rejects that.
"It is obvious that there is an effort to bring about a government that will implement the bailout. We are not participating in such a government," SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Saturday.
Another small leftist party - the Democratic Left led by lawyer Fotis Kouvelis - could provide enough seats to form a government with New Democracy and PASOK, but has said it will not do so unless the coalition also includes SYRIZA.
Greeks seem resigned to returning to the polls.
"Why would we believe they'll agree on something? All they care about is being in power and we're sitting here not even able to pay our electricity bills," said Maria Kissou, 53, a corner shop owner in Athens. "Let us go to elections again."
Kissou voted for Tsipras on May 6.
"He's young, I like him because at least he's trying to renegotiate with the Europeans," Kissou said.
Supporters of the two establishment parties will be hoping that if a new election is held, Greeks will be frightened of the prospect of leaving the euro and return to the fold.
"Country on a dangerous path," the conservative daily Kathimerini warned on its front page.
Papoulias will also meet leaders of parliament's small parties on Sunday evening at 1630 GMT, which for the first time include the far right Golden Dawn.
In one of the unfolding drama's many sub-plots, Greeks will watch with interest to see how the president, a revered 82-year-old veteran of the World War II anti-Nazi resistance, receives a group whose members give Nazi-style salutes.
The constitution sets no deadline for Papoulias to complete his search for a deal and he has given no indication how long he will spend trying before he calls a new election.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Mayıs 2012, 16:27