ATHENS: Greek politicians were set to abandon their quest to form a government today, leaving the president with one final chance to avert new elections that could drive Greece out of the European single currency.
Greece’s political landscape is in disarray after voters humiliated the only parties backing a rescue plan tied to spending cuts, leaving no bloc with sufficient seats to form a government to secure the next tranche of financial aid.
Without the aid, the debt-stricken country risks bankruptcy in weeks and - as European leaders now openly acknowledge -potential ejection from the euro zone.
The prospect of a new election has caused havoc in financial markets, both in Greece and across Europe, where the idea that Athens might leave the euro is viewed as potentially
damaging to bank balance sheets and the credit
ratings of other vulnerable countries.
As politicians acknowledged their failure to agree a coalition yesterday, the euro sank to its lowest point since January near $1.29.
Opinion polls conducted in the week since the election show the SYRIZA coalition of charismatic 37-year-old radical leftist Alexis Tsipras surging into the lead.
He says the bailout deal must be torn up, though like most Greeks he says he still wants to keep the euro, a position which is seen in Brussels as untenable without the bailout’s austerity commitments.
Tsipras yesterday rejected an offer to form a unity coalition of all parties, a proposal made by Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos - the outgoing finance minister who negotiated the much-hated 130 billion euro bailout package with lenders.
Venizelos, the third political heavyweight to fail to form a government in the week since the election, is due to meet President Karolos Papoulias today to give up his mandate.
Papoulias will then meet the leaders of all parties in parliament and try one last time to persuade them to create a government or, if they cannot, to call a new election, expected in mid-June.
Newspapers today suggested that Papoulias
would wait until Monday to summon the politicians, leaving Greece and anxious watchers in the euro zone
in limbo for now.
Last Sunday’s election saw the two parties that dominated the country for generations - Venizelos’s PASOK and the conservative New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras - humiliated.
The two, which together usually hoovered up around 80 per cent of votes, saw their combined vote tally collapse to just 32 per cent.
The rest of the votes were won by small parties that oppose the bailout, ranging from the Communists to the far right. Polls taken since then show the anti-bailout vote consolidating around Tsipras.