NEWS

Tsipras picks up baton after Samaras fails to form unity government

The leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Alexis Tsipras, is to get a shot at forming a coalition government from Tuesday after an attempt by Antonis Samaras, the leader of conservative of New Democracy which came first in the general elections, failed to bear fruit.

Tsipras is to meet President Karolos Papoulias at 2 p.m. to receive his mandate to form a government. He will then approach other parties - formations ?primarily? to the left of the political spectrum, he indicated yesterday - in a bid to form a left-led coalition. Party sources told Kathimerini that Tsipras?s key goal is to win round the Communist Party (KKE) and Democratic Left, a moderate, pro-Europe grouping. If this fails - which is likely as KKE has already ruled out any cooperations - Tsipras will reach out to other parties, the same sources said. He is also expected to meet with the heads of smaller leftist parties that didn?t make it into Parliament in a bid to bolster SYRIZA ahead of a possible second round of elections.

Samaras effectively passed the baton to the 38-year-old leftist on Monday when he declared that his efforts to form a government had failed. ?We did everything we could, but it just wasn?t possible,? Samaras said in a televised statement.

According to the Constitution, the leader of the first party in general elections gets three days to form a government before the mandate passes to the runner-up and then the third party. ND sources said that Samaras returned the mandate after just a few hours as he had not wanted to waste time at such a critical moment for the nation.

In his televised speech, Samaras said ND had been the first party to call for a renegotiation of Greece?s debt deal with creditors. ?We?re glad others have understood the importance of renegotiating the deal,? he said, in a clear dig at socialist PASOK, which adopted a more flexible stance on the agreement before elections.

Earlier in the day, following a meeting with Samaras, Tsipras ruled out the formation of a national unity government with ND, reiterating that the election results showed people rejecting the politics of austerity. ?We will do all we can to reach an agreement with primarily left-wing parties,? he said.

His appeal elicited a cautious response from Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis. ?We will wait to hear a precise and clear proposal and then we will comment,? Kouvelis said after rejecting participation in a conservative-led government following talks with Samaras. Kouvelis said his party had not shifted from its pre-election position - to ensure Greece remains in the eurozone and renegotiate its debt deal.

Sunday?s election results saw support move from PASOK and ND to three anti-bailout parties: SYRIZA, the Independent Greeks and Chrsi Avgi (Golden Dawn). ND garnered 18.85 percent, which was 14.6 percent less than what it gained in the October 2009 elections.

SYRIZA came second with 16.78 percent, up 12.2 percent from its 2009 result. PASOK suffered a humiliating defeat, losing 30.7 percent from its support two-and-a-half years ago to gather just 13.18 percent on Sunday. Taking part in their first election, the nationalist Independent Greeks received 10.6 percent, while the Communist Party made only a 0.9 percent gain on its 2009 result to gather 8.48 percent.

The neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi increased its support by 6.7 percent to gain 6.9 percent in Sunday?s ballot. Democratic Left, also making its electoral debut, won 6.11 percent of the vote.

The reinforced proportionality that applies in Greek elections meant that the first party received an extra 50 seats, up from 40 in 2009. However, this did not prove a deciding factor as New Democracy (108 seats) and PASOK (41 seats) did not have a large enough representation in the 300-seat Parliament to form a majority government. SYRIZA gained 52 seats, Independent Greeks 33, KKE 26, Chrysi Avgi 21, and Democratic Left 19.

New Democracy?s best showing was in Messenia in the Peloponnese, where Samaras hails from. The conservatives won 33.6 percent of the vote there. PASOK?s most impressive showing was in Rhodope, northeastern Greece, where the Socialists won 26.71 percent. However, it was a disastrous night for the center-left party, which saw a number of its most prominent officials, such as former Development Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and ex-Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis, fail to win seats in Parliament. In fact, of the 37 members of the cabinet formed when PASOK came to power in 2009, only six were elected on Sunday. One of those was Venizelos and ex-Premier George Papandreou was another.

Most PASOK officials remained tight-lipped about the party?s future after Sunday?s shattering result. However, party veteran and former Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, who did not stand in these elections, suggested that PASOK may have come to the end of its political life.

?It no longer exists as a serious political force, not just because of the election result,? said Pangalos, who was also critical of the behavior of some of his colleagues. ?This might trigger the discussion about whether it is necessary for this type of party to exist.?

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