The leaders of Greece's once-dominant political parties are making their final effort to form a coalition and avert new elections which could throw the debt-crippled country into further political and economic crisis.
Evangelos Venizelos, the Socialist Party (PASOK) leader, was meeting centre-right New Democracy counterpart Antonis Samaras and other political leaders on Friday for last-ditch talks aimed at building a government that would honour Athens' commitment to an EU-IMF bailout plan.
But the leader of Greece's moderate Democratic Left party Fotis Kouvelis appeared to dash hopes of a coalition deal on Friday, saying he would not back a pro-bailout government and that the country was heading to new elections.
Kouvelis, whose Democratic Left party won 19 seats in Sunday's election, said he could not join any coalition that did not include the election runners-up, Syriza. So far, the party's leader Alexi Tsipras has refused to join any government that does not reject the austerity terms of Greece's international bailout.
"We have made it clear, the Democratic Left party will not take part in a (coalition) government of New Democracy and
PASOK," Kouvelis told a meeting of his parliamentary group.
Venizelos, whose party came a distant third in last week's inconclusive elections, winning 41 seats in the 300-seat parliament, had earlier said he wanted to create a unity government that would keep Greece in the eurozone - an aim echoed by Kouvelis.
Al Jazeera's Tim Friend, reporting from Athens, said some of the Greek parties were not ready to enter a "rainbow coalition".
"The real difficulty is the radical left, who are doing really well, and the general feeling is that a coalition would have to acknowledge their success," he said. "Of course the radical left want to do away with the austerity measures, and tear up the agreement."
The stalemate in Greece has raised fears of political chaos that could kill off reforms and eventually force the debt-laden nation to leave the euro single currency union.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, said in an interview published on Friday that the eurozone would cope without Greece.
"We want Greece to remain in the eurozone," he told the regional Theinische Post. "But it also has to want this and to fulfill its obligations. We can't force anyone. Europe won't sink that easily."
Venizelos' efforts follow the failures of New Democracy, which gained more than 100 seats, and the anti-austerity leftwing Syriza party, which finished second, to form governments.
A fresh setback would result in President Carolos Papoulias calling on parties to form an emergency coalition. If that cannot be done by May 17, new general elections would be called.
Voters on Sunday punished PASOK and New Democracy for having pushed through severe austerity measures in return for multi-billion-euro international loans to stave off bankruptcy and keep Greece in the eurozone.
However, many still believe repeat elections are almost certain.
The European Union is sending a strong message that Greece must honour the bailout conditions of budget cuts and deep reforms after Venizelos and Samaras advocated renegotiating the deal to boost growth.
Creditors have warned that a rescue loan instalment to be paid on Thursday could be the last if Athens reneges on its reform commitments, pushing the country again to the brink of default on its debts.
|What next for Greece? Al Jazeera's John Psaropoulos sets out possible scenarios
- Venizelos succeeds in including the Democratic Left and wins a vote of confidence and his PASOK party head a coalition government.
- Venizelos does not succeed in winning over the Democratic Left, but persudes them to abstain from the vote of confidence. Since the vote of confidence is calculated as an absolute majority of the legislators present, the absence of 2 or more of them autmatically allows the coalition of Pasok and New Democracy to vote themselves in, even though they do not have an absolute majority of seats.
- Venizelos and Samaras engage in a kind of guerrilla war to convince various legislators in other parties to defy their leadership and abstain from the vote of confidence to achieve the same result to vote themselves in.
- Venizelos fails to win over the Democratic Left, and fails or chooses not to ask for its absence of votes. There is no other option for the Greek president. He then convenes the party leaders together to negotiate a possible national unity government instead. Failing that, Greece holds another election in June.