Greece's president formally gave the conservative opposition a chance on Friday to form a new government after leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned, but the country appears almost certain to be heading to an election next month.
Tsipras quit on Thursday, hoping to strengthen his hold on power in a snap election after seven months in office in which he fought Greece's creditors for a better bailout deal but had to cave in.
Outgoing Deputy Finance Minister Tryfon Alexiadis said only an election could stabilise Greece after Tsipras's Syriza party split over accepting the onerous terms of Greece's third bailout.
"Elections surely have an indirect cost … but will clear things up so we can move ahead," he told the state TV channel ERT. "There are political forces which consider the bailout a salvation. Syriza was forced to make this political choice but not because of ideology."
President Prokopis Pavlopoulos had already invited conservative leader Vangelis Meimarakis by email to try to form a new government without the need for a new election, which would be the third in as many years.
He formally received the mandate on Friday morning. But his New Democracy Party has just 76 members in the 300-seat parliament, and is almost certain to fail to find enough partners among an opposition that ranges from the KKE communists to the ultra-right Golden Dawn party.
If Meimarakis has no coalition agreement within three days, the constitution says the next biggest party should be given a chance, but an election is a virtual certainty.
Faced with a near collapse of the Greek financial system which threatened the country's future in the euro, Tsipras was forced to accept the creditors' demands for yet more austerity and economic reform – the very policies he had promised to scrap when he was elected in January.
Announcing his resignation, Tsipras acknowledged his record had been patchy. "I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections," he told the Greek people. "I feel the deep ethical and political responsibility to put to your judgment all I have done, successes and failures."