TIMETABLE: Next steps to presidential elections and beyond

After Greece’s government announced that it would start the process of electing a new president early, here’s what the constitution says about what comes next:

* Dec. 17: Parliament’s 300 lawmakers hold the first of three possible votes to appoint the head of state. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition needs a two-thirds supermajority — equivalent to 200 lawmakers — for its candidate, Stavros Dimas, to be elected. It has 155 lawmakers in its bloc. If it fails to do so, a second round must be held after five days.

* All parties have the right to nominate a presidential candidate. The nominee can change during the election process.

* Dec. 23: The coalition gets a second shot at electing the president, again with the threshold set at 200 votes. If it fails, a third and final round of voting is held after five days.

* Dec. 29: This is when things get serious. Samaras’s coalition has a last chance to elect Dimas as president, and this time the required supermajority drops to 180 lawmakers. If the government still cannot muster the support needed, parliament must be dissolved and elections called within the next 10 days. The vote must then be held within 21 days of the date elections are called.

* Jan. 25: By convention, the parliamentary election is held on a Sunday, meaning this is the first realistic date for the vote. Feb. 1 is also a possibility.

* Thereafter: If the party that places first has a majority, the leader gets a mandate to form a cabinet which is sworn in on the third day after elections. If there’s no clear majority, the president hands the mandate to the leader of the party with the most votes to form a government in three days and put it to parliament for approval. Failure to form a workable coalition means the mandate passes to the second-placed party and then the third-placed party, each of which has three days. If, as happened in 2012, each party fails to form a government with parliamentary support, they meet with the president to try and form a coalition. If that fails, we go to new elections.

* Feb. 28: Greece’s two-month bailout extension expires, potentially leaving the country without a financial lifeline or access to the bond markets. [Bloomberg]