With time running out, Greece heads to new elections

Greece is heading for new elections, most probably on June 17, after party leaders failed on Tuesday to agree on the formation of a government despite efforts by President Karolos Papoulias to broker a last-ditch deal.

The collapse of the talks led to New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left accusing the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) of scuppering any agreement because it wanted new elections that might elevate the party from second position to first. SYRIZA, which more than tripled its share of the vote on May 6, said that it had to remain true to its opposition to the terms of the European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout.

It emerged that Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis put forward a proposal to break the deadlock during yesterday?s meeting at the Presidential Palace. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras had argued that it was impossible for his party to form a government with PASOK and ND as their leaders, Evangelos Venizelos and Antonis Samaras, had given the EU and IMF written pledges to keep to the terms of the loan deal. Kouvelis suggested this could be overcome by Venizelos and Samaras giving fresh pledges to back the new government?s efforts to negotiate a gradual disengagement from the EU-IMF bailout.

However, the leaders did not back the idea proposed by Kouvelis, who last week suggested a unity government be formed to improve the bailout terms and keep Greece in the euro before calling elections in 2014. ?I did everything I could: I explored every avenue, we went beyond every possibility,? said Kouvelis. ?Unfortunately, our proposal was rejected because it appears that some political forces had opted to go to new elections so they could serve their party interests.?

Samaras also expressed frustration at no deal being agreed. ?Certain people are intent on leading Greece into risky territory,? he said. Samaras accused the two parties opposed to the bailout, SYRIZA and Independent Greeks, of ?unbelievable arrogance and incredible irresponsibly.?

New Democracy sources told Kathimerini that the new election campaign would see Samaras focus his attacks on Tsipras rather than Venizelos. The conservatives believe that they have to turn the campaign into one that revolves around staying in the euro or returning to the drachma. They will attempt to convince voters that SYRIZA?s economic policies would lead to Greece having to leave the eurozone. Samaras also referred to unity in his statement, which is seen as a reference to his effort to attract MPs who have quit the party over the past few months and years to return.

Venizelos also accused some parties of putting ?momentary party interest above the national interest.? The PASOK leader now faces a challenge to overhaul his crumbling party in time for the next elections.

Tsipras set his eyes on first place in next month?s polls, which would give SYRIZA an extra 50 seats in Parliament. ?We were only a few thousands votes short of first place on May 6 and this kept us from creating a left-wing government that would cancel the memorandum and would rebuild the country from the ruins which the parties that supported the memorandum have left behind,? he said.

The chief of the nationalist Independent Greeks, Panos Kammenos, also attended the leaders? meeting, but his suggestion that others support his party to form a government was rejected outright. Kammenos proposed that someone else from his party could lead such an administration.

The failure of the talks means that leaders will meet again today to rubber-stamp the appointment of a caretaker prime minister. The constitution decrees this should be the head of one of Greece?s three highest courts. The favorite to be given the job is Council of State president Panayiotis Pikramenos. He will then agree on a new cabinet with the help of Papoulias.

The MPs elected on May 6 will be sworn in tomorrow but Parliament will be dissolved on Monday or Tuesday so elections can be held on June 17.