Greece's embattled ruling SYRIZA party suffered another blow Monday when its secretary quit, as euroskeptic rebels were given a mandate to try to form a government.
SYRIZA secretary Tasos Koronakis stepped down in protest at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' decision last week to call early elections, backtracking on an earlier proposal to hold a party congress in September to address the rebel faction.
Greece is likely headed for snap elections as early as next month after Tsipras resigned in the face of the internal SYRIZA revolt over his acceptance of the tough terms of a massive new international bailout deal.
With the Athens stock exchange shedding over 6 percent as global shares plunged over China economic worries, the rebels on Monday formally received a mandate from President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to attempt to form a government in the next three days.
The leftist hardliners, who call themselves the Popular Unity party after the victorious 1970 Chilean alliance of Salvador Allende, are the third and last party to receive a mandate under the terms of the constitution.
"We will use this mandate to demonstrate the necessity of an anti-austerity government," said party leader Panayiotis Lafazanis, who has argued that Greece can happily exist without the euro.
The main opposition New Democracy conservatives – who have 76 seats in the 300-member parliament – had earlier attempted and failed to form a government.
With just 25 lawmakers, Popular Unity cannot realistically muster enough support for a majority in the 300-seat parliament either.
Pavlopoulos is expected to terminate the procedure on Thursday and name a caretaker administration under the head of the Supreme Court.
Tsipras resigned on August 20 after an anti-bailout mutiny by SYRIZA euroskeptics formally wiped out his parliamentary majority, leaving the party with around 124 seats.
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said on Sunday that elections – Greece's fourth in just three years and the second since SYRIZA took office in January – would probably be held next month.
"As things stand, it is feasible to hold elections on September 20," she told state TV ERT.
An unprecedented war of words has broken out between Greece's outgoing government, the parliament chief and the president over the snap ballot.
The government has accused parliamentary speaker Zoe Constantopoulou of "behaving like a dictator" after she branded the early election procedure "undemocratic and unconstitutional."
Tsipras is seeking to defend the tough terms he accepted in the 86-billion-euro ($96 billion) rescue package, the third for Greece in five years.
Constantopoulou, Greece's youngest parliament speaker at 38, has accused the 65-year-old president of breaking the rules by skipping a parliamentary technicality in order to hasten the procedure.
The president – an esteemed professor of constitutional law – responded on Saturday by dismissing her arguments as "legally baseless."
Constantopoulou, whose father was a former head of SYRIZAs precursor party Synaspismos, vehemently opposed the third EU bailout Tsipras signed in July and repeatedly sought to frustrate its ratification in parliament through stalling tactics.
A former rising star of SYRIZA, Constantopoulou is now rumored to be considering joining the anti-bailout Popular Unity.
Another prominent SYRIZA lawmaker, flamboyant ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, on Sunday said he would not be a candidate with Tsipras's party in the election.
"I will not be a candidate in the name of SYRIZA," Varoufakis, who has strongly criticized the bailout, told Frances Journal du Dimanche.
"SYRIZA is adopting an irrational doctrine that I have opposed for five years: to further extend the crisis and pretend it is solved, while maintaining a debt that cannot be paid," he said.