Papandreou poised to begin coalition talks

Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to meet President Karolos Papoulias at noon today to inform him that he will begin talks aimed at forming a coalition government.

Papandreou survived a confidence vote in Parliament early on Saturday, garnering support from 153 of 300 MPs. All 152 PASOK deputies backed the premier. Louka Katseli, recently ousted from the Socialists? parliamentary group, also supported Papandreou. After the vote she was brought back into the party.

Papandreou?s options in terms of forming a coalition seem to be limited after the leader of the main opposition party New Democracy Antonis Samaras repeated his call for snap elections after saying that PASOK had rejected his proposals for forming a government of national unity.

?Mr Papandreou rejected our proposal,? said Samaras, who had earlier this week declared he would vote for the new eurozone bailout package after the prime minister dropped his bid to hold a referendum on the matter. ?The only solution is elections.?

It is likely that the prime minister will approach the smaller parties in Parliament. The right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), the centrist Democratic Alliance and the moderate leftist Democratic Left could be potential alliance partners.

Papandreou, however, faces a tough task in convincing these parties? leaders to take part in a coalition government. Democratic Alliance leader Dora Bakoyannis has already indicated that an administration that did not include New Democracy would not be viable.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the new government would only serve until the end of February, when it would call elections. Its main task would be to secure the 8-billion-euro loan tranche that Greece is expecting from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund before hammering out the details of Greece?s loan package and adopting the measures demanded by the country?s lenders.

?I ask for the vote of confidence to avert the instability that would be caused if the country is dragged into elections,? said Papandreou in his address on Friday night. ?Now is the time for cooperation with good intentions and a feeling of national responsibility.?

He indicated that he would be willing to step aside so another prime minister can be appointed once the formation of the coalition has been agreed.