ATHENS, Greece – Greece moved to end its protracted political impasse Wednesday, swearing in a new prime minister to lead a largely pro-bailout coalition tasked with saving the country’s place in the eurozone and easing a European financial crisis with global repercussions.
Antonis Samaras, a 61-year-old U.S.-educated economist, became the fourth prime minister in eight months.
“I know well the need to restore the dignity of the Greek people that has been wounded,” he said. “I know the need for a quick recovery of the economy to restore social justice and social cohesion.”
Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, will head a three-party coalition that includes the socialist PASOK party and the small Democratic Left.
The new government faces massive financial challenges. It must deliver on pledges to implement painful austerity measures, including cutting tens of thousands of civil service jobs, in exchange for billions of dollars in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund.
“You are taking over the governance of the country at a difficult and historic moment. You have many battles to fight, both within Greece and abroad,” the outgoing caretaker prime minister, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, told Samaras during their handover.
New Democracy narrowly beat the radical left-wing Syriza party in Sunday’s elections, but fell short of enough votes to form a government on its own, leading to power-sharing talks for three days. Similar talks after an inconclusive May 6 election had collapsed after 10 days.
Syriza, led by 37-year-old former student activist Alexis Tsipras, had campaigned on an anti-bailout platform, vowing to pull Greece out of the commitments it made to impose deeply unpopular austerity measures in return for the multibillion-euro bailouts. Greece has been dependent on the bailout funds since May 2010.
Tapping into widespread anger at the austerity, Tsipras quadrupled his party’s support since the 2009 elections and will now be the main opposition party – a role it has already said it will use to oppose the bailout.