ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek euro exit would damage both the country and Europe as a whole, the head of the Radical Left Coalition head said Thursday, but insisted the austerity measures imposed as part of Greece's international bailout are too harsh and must be changed.
Alexis Tsipras came a surprise second in weekend elections in which voters furious at two years of harsh spending cuts hammered the two formerly dominant parties of New Democracy and PASOK. No party won enough seats in Parliament to form a government.
The three have been negotiating so far unsuccessfully since Monday to form a coalition government. If no agreement can be reached, Greeks will go to the polls again next month. The prospect promises more political uncertainty in the crisis-hit country, which is dependent on funds from international bailout loans to continue functioning.
Tsipras' insistence that a new government denounce the bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund and other European countries provoked a backlash from the other two main parties, who argued the move would see Greece leave the common European currency and endure years of poverty and isolation.
But Tsipras said it was a position he couldn't change.
"Our red line is for the public mandate not to be ignored," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "The Greek people gave a clear mandate to cancel these harsh austerity measures that for the past two-and-a-half years have led us to catastrophe. If this basic condition that we are setting in this negotiation isn't accepted, it is clear that we at least can't participate in a government."
The political uncertainty has alarmed Greece's international creditors, who insist the country stick to the fiscal targets laid out in the agreement.
The 38-year-old Tsipras said Greece should stay in the euro.
Leaving the joint currency "would be an exceptionally negative development ... not just for Greece but for the whole of Europe."
But while European help for Greece should continue, insistence on austerity measures would eventually lead to the collapse of the joint currency project, he argued.
"We're saying that the recipe has to change. Until recently they were telling us that the recipe was right but that the cook was bad. The cook wasn't bad. Wherever the recipe of austerity has been applied, the result has been a failure."
The method of austerity is also causing problems in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, four other financially troubled eurozone countries, Tsipras said.
"Very soon (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel will be faced with the reality. She will be in the difficult position of having to face the disintegration of the eurozone if she insists on these austerity policies."
If Greece doesn't fulfill the terms of its bailout, it would also stop receiving the rescue loans on which it has been relying since May 2010.
Tsipras, however, said his party would try to "persuade the European partners that they are not (just) hurting Greece by canceling any effort of financial support for Greece, they are putting in great danger the eurozone itself and the social cohesion of Europe."
Tsipras is to meet again with former finance minister and PASOK party head Evangelos Venizelos Friday as part of power-sharing negotiations. Venizelos, who took over the mandate to seek coalition partners Thursday, has a maximum of three days to hold negotiations.
An opinion poll published late Thursday indicated that the Radical Left Coalition would come first with nearly 28 percent of the vote if new elections are held, winning 128 seats — up from its current 16.8 percent and 52 seats.
The Marc survey for private Alpha TV gave New Democracy second place with 20.3 percent and 57 seats, and showed PASOK in third place with 12.6 percent and 36 seats.
The May 8-9 nationwide survey was the first published after Sunday's vote. It gave no margin of error.