'Radical' leftist Greek leader Alexis Tsipras is meeting the leaders of Greece's mainstream parties today to try to form a coalition government, an effort seen as doomed after he demanded they first agree to tear up the country's austerity programme underpinning the bailout deal with the EU and the IMF.
An inconclusive election on Sunday (6 May) has left Athens in political disarray, with no clear path to form a government, a new election likely within weeks and speculation escalating that Greece could be pushed out of Europe's common currency.
Voters enraged by economic hardship repudiated the two parties which have led Greece for decades – conservative New Democracy and Socialist PASOK – the only groups that back the 130 billion-euro bailout which saved Greece from bankruptcy.
The remote chance of Tsipras forming a coalition faded even further on yesterday (8 May) when New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras promptly rejected his demand to scrap the bailout, warning such a move could drive the debt-choked country out of the euro.
"Mr Tsipras asked me to put my signature to the destruction of Greece. I will not do this," Samaras said. "The country cannot afford to play with fire."
Tsipras's Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) finished second on Sunday, while New Democracy and PASOK – which between them had 77% of the vote just three years ago – saw their combined share fall to just 32% with PASOK reduced to third place.
Samaras was given the first chance to form a government but failed. On Tuesday Tsipras was given three days to try. He will meet Socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Samaras today.
If, as increasingly seems likely, no politician is able to cobble together a majority in the 300-seat parliament, a new election would have to be held in 3-4 weeks. Samaras may be hoping Greeks will give him a stronger mandate in a new vote.
"After Samaras's response to Tsipras, that particular bridge (the chance of a coalition deal between these parties) has been exploded, burned," said Theodore Couloumbis, political analyst for the Athens-based think-tank ELIAMEP.
Rivals for decades, New Democracy and PASOK had been ruling jointly in an uneasy coalition that negotiated last year's bailout, which saw lenders demand ever-deeper spending cuts in a country already suffering five straight years of recession.
Most Greeks say they want to keep the euro currency – widely seen as impossible without the bailout – but they are furious with the two mainstream political parties they blame for the recession, record high unemployment and endemic corruption.
Most believe spending cuts demanded by the EU and International Monetary Fund are only making the situation worse by increasing unemployment and preventing economic recovery.
Even with an electoral system that gave first-placed New Democracy an extra 50 seats – designed to make it easier to form stable governments – it and PASOK together fell short of a majority to renew their coalition, with only 149 seats between them.