Last chance for Greece to have coalition gov’t

Last chance for Greece to have coalition gov’t

Last chance for Greece to have coalition gov’t

Pasok party leader Venizelos heads to a meeting with Greek conservative leader of the New Democracy party Samaras. AFP photo

Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos was tasked yesterday by President Carolos Papoulias with forming a government after efforts by other parties failed in the wake of inconclusive weekend polls.

“Our proposal is to create a unity government, a cooperation of pro-European forces,” Venizelos, 55, told reporters outside the presidential mansion, adding that the task was “not easy” but still “feasible.”

“It is clear that the people want stability and want to avoid [new] elections,” the former finance minister, who helped negotiate a landmark debt cut, said. The socialist leader held talks with the small Democratic Left Party and former coalition partners and his main rivals, the conservative New Democracy Party his main rivals.

Venizelos, whose PASOK party came in a distant third in the elections, is thought unlikely to succeed where the top-seeded New Democracy conservatives and the second-placed Syriza could not. A fresh setback would result in Papoulias calling on parties to form an emergency coalition. If that cannot be done by May 17, new elections will be called for early June.

A major stumbling block has been Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras’ insistence that Greece’s tough austerity program, which is part of its international bailout commitments, be canceled or frozen. Both Samaras and Venizelos argue such a move would be catastrophic for the country, and would lead Greece out of the euro.

‘Greece would become Albania of 1960s’
“This would lead the country to formal bankruptcy, cutting it off the international banking system, and world markets, halting imports and exports and lines of credit to businesses. Greece would become Albania of the 1960s,” The Associated Press quoted Venizelos as saying.

Meanwhile, the European Union is sending a strong message that Greece must honor the rescue conditions of budget cuts and deep reforms after Venizelos and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said growth-boosting changes would be sought. In Brussels, an EN official told Agence France-Presse that Greece would receive a 4.2 billion euro loan expected today, but a further one billion would be held back till May 14. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned that future loans would not be forthcoming unless Greece installed a stable government. In return for billions of euros in rescue loans from other EU countries and the International Monetary Fund, Greece imposed harsh austerity measures that saw salaries and pensions slashed, tens of thousands of people lose their jobs and businesses close down. Anger at the past two years of austerity and the deep financial crisis saw voters desert the formerly dominant two main parties and flock to smaller parties on the right and left. Syriza saw a strong boost, bringing the party into second place with 16.8 percent. “The people have punished PASOK, because they considered it responsible for the crisis,” Venizelos said.