ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's president convened the crisis-struck country's wrangling politicians Sunday in a final bid to broker an agreement for a coalition government and avoid new elections that will prolong the political uncertainty and threaten the country's euro membership.
Karolos Papoulias met initially with the heads of conservative New Democracy, radical left Syriza and socialist PASOK parties, who finished in the top three positions in elections last week that left no party with enough votes to form a government. He was then continuing with individual discussions with the heads of smaller parties that won enough votes to gain parliamentary seats, including the head of the extremist right-wing party Golden Dawn.
Week-long negotiations have so far failed to produce a result. If no government is formed, Greece must call new elections.
Voters furious at the handling of Greece's financial crisis and two years of harsh austerity measures taken in return for billions of euros in international bailout loans punished the formerly dominant parties in elections last Sunday. New Democracy and PASOK saw their support crumble to the lowest point in decades, while Syriza, led by 38-year-old Alexis Tsipras, made big gains to come in second place after campaigning on an anti-bailout platform.
The turmoil has alarmed Greece's international creditors, who have stressed that the country must stick to the terms of its rescue deals if it hopes to continue receiving the funds that have been keeping it afloat since May 2010.
Whether Greece should adhere to the strict austerity measures required for the bailout loans or pull out of the deal has been at the heart of the wrangling over the creation of the coalition government.
Tsipras insists any new government must cancel the austerity measures. He argues the terms are so onerous that they are giving the country's battered economy no chance of recovery.
But both PASOK head and former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos and New Democracy head Antonis Samaras have slammed Tsipras' position as irresponsible. They say his policies would lead to disaster and force Greece out of the European Union's joint currency — something that none of the political leaders say they want.
Samaras and Venizelos could join forces with the small Democratic Left party of Fotis Kouvelis and form a governing coalition, but all three have insisted they cannot do so without the support of Syriza due to its strong showing in the elections. New Democracy won 18.9 percent last Sunday while PASOK garnered just 13.2 percent, compared to nearly 44 percent in the last elections in 2009. Kouvelis' 6.1 percent put him in a kingmaker position, with 19 seats in the 300-member Parliament.
"The Greek people didn't just send us a message, they gave us a mandate," Samaras said as he arrived for the meeting with the president. "A mandate of cooperation for all of us to change policy, but also to remain in the euro."
But chances for a solution appeared slim, with Tsipras so far sticking to his position that he cannot back or join any government that does not seek to overturn the bailout terms.
The young left-wing leader has also been buoyed by opinion polls which show his party would likely come in first in new elections, although it would not win enough seats to form a government on its own.
A poll published by To Vima newspaper Sunday showed Syriza would win 20.5 percent of the vote — less than the 28 percent an earlier opinion poll published Thursday gave him, but still well ahead of New Democracy. To Vima's poll, carried out by Kappa Research, showed New Democracy in second place with 18.1 percent and PASOK losing yet more votes to reach 12.2 percent.
The poll was carried out on May 9 and 10, and had a margin of error of 3.09 percentage points.
Papoulias' mediation to broker a deal could in theory continue until May 17, the scheduled opening date for the new parliament, although they are expected to end sooner. If no agreement is reached, Greece will have to hold new elections next month, most likely on June 10th or 17th.