Greece’s president was to yesterday launch the process of asking opposition leaders to form a new government, after a party rebellion over a bailout deal forced Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call early elections next month.
The opposition is given little chance of uniting and forming a government, meaning that after five-plus years of a worsening financial crisis, Greece appears headed for its fifth national election in six years. Although Tsipras is widely tipped to win the election, if he fails to secure an outright majority he would have to seek a complex coalition deal that could hamper his ability to govern in the long term.
Outgoing government officials say the likeliest election date is Sept. 20, just under eight months after Tsipras’ election on promises to fight creditor-demanded spending cuts and tax hikes, terms to which he later agreed to secure Greece a third bailout as its economy was on the brink of collapse.
Yesterday morning, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos will meet the head of conservative New Democracy party, Evangelos Meimarakis, and ask him to try to form a government.
If Meimarakis fails within the maximum three-day limit, the next in line to try is the head of the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party.
However, neither party has enough allies to gain the Greek Parliament’s support.
If both fail, parliament will be dissolved and elections held within the next month.
Announcing his resignation in a televised address late on Thursday, Tsipras said he secured the best deal possible when he agreed to a three-year, 86 billion euro (US$95 billion) bailout from other eurozone countries to save Greece from a disastrous exit from the euro currency.
However, the deal came with strict terms for mroe belt-tightening.
Tsipras’ reversal in accepting the demands by the country’s creditors led to outrage among hardliners in his SYRIZA party, which hamstrung his coalition. About one in four SYRIZA lawmakers refused to back the bailout’s ratification in parliament last week, which was only approved with backing from opposition parties.
Greece’s European creditors did not appear dismayed by Tsipras’ move, which was widely expected.
However, Moody’s credit rating agency warned in a statement that the snap elections “potentially, puts future [rescue loan] disbursements at risk.”
The political uncertainty took its toll on Greece’s stock market, with the Athens Stock Exchange closing 3.5 percent down on election speculation.
Tsipras had delayed a decision on whether to call new elections until after Greece received its first installment from the bailout and made a debt repayment to the European Central Bank; it did both on Thursday.
“Now that this difficult cycle has ended ... I feel the deep moral and political obligation to set before your judgement everything I have done, both right and wrong, the achievements and the omissions,” he said in the address.
Tsipras said that he had to accept the unpalatable bailout terms to keep Greece in the euro, the EU’s common currency.
He is betting on a stronger mandate if polls are held before voters feel the impact of the steep tax hikes and spending cuts.
Tsipras on Thursday acknowledged that the bailout deal was not what his government had wanted.
“I wish to be fully frank with you. We did not achieve the agreement that we were hoping for before the January elections,” he said. “But ... [the agreement we have] was the best anyone could have achieved. We are obliged to observe this agreement, but at the same time we will do our utmost to minimize its negative consequences.”
Quoting Turkish left-wing poet Nazim Hikmet, he added: “Our best days have yet to be lived.”
If Tsipras wins the elections, a new mandate will allow him to move away from the rebels in his party, some of whom have openly advocated leaving the euro and returning to the drachma.
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