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Greek conservatives struggle to form a government

May 7, 2012 |  9:49 am

ATHENS -– Conservative leader Antonis Samaras struggled Monday to stitch together a coalition after angry voters, hit by years of unrelenting austerity, left Greece with no outright winner in the most important national election in decades.           

Samaras, the leader of the New Democracy party, which captured the biggest chunk of Sunday's highly fragmented vote, has three days to form an alliance. But even before he could begin, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, the radical left group that came in a surprising second place on the strength of a protest vote, dashed prospects of a deal.           

“It’s not going to happen,” Tsipras told The Times as he entered talks with his conservative opponent, only to abandon them 40 minutes later.

"Our positions are diametrically opposed," he said later in a nationally televised address from his party headquarters.

Young, brash and charismatic, Tsipras has emerged as Greece's possible kingmaker after nearly quadrupling his electoral support Sunday compared with elections in 2009. Tsipras, 38, rode a tidal wave of anger against the fiscal austerity prescribed by Europe’s paymaster, Germany, as a cure for Europe's debt crisis and as a condition of Greece's two international bailouts.

If Samaras does not succeed in putting together a coalition, then Tsipras will be given a shot at it. Continued failure by Greece's parties to agree on a coalition could force a second snap election within two months, piling political instability on the country’s financial uncertainty.

On Monday, that uncertainty weighed on markets across Europe, with the Athens exchange taking a 10% nosedive at the start of its session, before easing to a 6.6% loss in the afternoon.

Debt inspectors from Greece’s international creditors –- the European Union and the International Monetary Fund -– are due in Athens in the coming weeks to check up on an additional $14 billion in budget cuts to which Greece has already agreed. If Athens were to renege on those cuts, which Tsipras and other anti-austerity parties have demanded, the creditors could pull the plug on the multi-billion-dollar bailouts keeping Greece afloat.           

“The country’s future within the euro is seriously at stake,” Theodore Couloumbis, head of the Athens-based ELIAMEP think tank said. “It may all get very ugly.”


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Photo: Antonis Samaras, right, whose conservative New Democracy party scored the most seats in Sunday's general election in Greece, welcomes Alexis Tsipras of the leftist Syriza party for talks Monday on forming a coalition. Credit: Willy Antoniou / Bloomberg