Left-wing Greek leader gives up on forming a government

Alexis Tsipras

ATHENS -- Left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras threw in the towel Wednesday on efforts to form a government in politically fractured Greece, deepening the feeling of instability here and making another snap election more likely.

Tsipras’ radical Syriza party was the surprise second-place finisher in Sunday’s general election after a campaign in which he vowed to roll back punishing austerity cuts and tear up Greece’s bailout agreements with its international lenders.

But after two days of talks with other political leaders, the brash and energetic Tsipras was unable to stitch together a working coalition in Greece’s highly fragmented new Parliament.

“There was sweeping social support but weak political backing. Our dream of a leftist coalition cannot materialize,” he said after meetings with the head of the top vote-getting conservative New Democracy party and the third-place Socialists.

On Thursday, the task of trying to put together a government will fall to Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister. But few expect him to succeed where first New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and then Tsipras failed.

President Karolos Papoulias would then try to bring the leaders together to form a government of national unity. But many analysts expect that, in the end, Papoulias will announce a new election to take place as early as June 17. Whether it would produce any more decisive a result is anyone’s guess.

The volatility comes as Athens is on the hook to approve yet another round of deep public spending cuts as a condition of receiving its next installment of bailout loans. Without the money, Greece faces the prospect of a chaotic default, which would have worrisome repercussions for the global economy.

Tsipras had already sent shock waves through the markets with his declaration Tuesday that he intended to renege on the bailout agreements, which he said were voided by the election. A majority of Greeks voted for anti-austerity candidates, ditching the traditionally dominant New Democracy and Socialist parties.

But Greece’s European partners, especially Germany, warned that such a move would almost certainly mean that Greece would have to exit the Eurozone, the group of 17 nations that share the euro currency.

Samaras spent just half an hour in talks with Tsipras on Wednesday. He said he could not be part of any government that put Greece’s Eurozone membership at grave risk.

He drew a distinction between wanting to revisit elements of the bailout agreement, which his party supports, and outright rejection of it.

“Renegotiation is one thing. Denouncing and annulling it is something entirely different and certain to lead to Greece’s exit from the euro,” Samaras warned in a nationally televised address. “Greek voters never gave anyone a mandate to destroy the country and push it out of the euro.”

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-- Anthee Carassava in Athens and Henry Chu in London

Photo: Left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras, who tried but failed to form a government in Greece. Credit: Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty Images

 
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