ATHENS, Greece – After making a stunning gain in Sunday’s national elections, Greece’s leading leftist party on Tuesday appeared to run aground in its attempt to form a coalition government, adding to the turmoil in stock markets and raising the prospect that Greek voters will be back at the polls next month.
Just hours after Alexis Tsipras, of the Radical Left or Syriza party, issued his program as would-be prime minister – to renege on the bailout agreement Greece had reached last year with the European Union, halt further austerity steps and nationalize Greece’s banks – the main centrist party issued a stinging rebuff.
“Mr. Tsipras asked me to put my signature to the destruction of Greece,” said Antonis Samaras, the head of New Democracy, which remains the single biggest party in Parliament despite its battering in the polls. “I won’t do this.”
On Monday, Samaras, as leader of the biggest vote-getter in Sunday’s election, had been offered the first chance to form a government. He announced his failure six hours later.
Tsipras’ leftist coalition won 52 seats in the 300-seat Parliament – four times its number in the previous Parliament – but it is doubtful he can form a government without New Democracy’s 108 seats. Adding insult to injury, the 37-year-old Tsirpas was rebuffed by the Greek Communists, who have 26 seats, and even by the Ecologist Greens, who fell just short of the 3 percent of the vote needed to win seats in the chamber. Only the Democratic Left splinter party, which has 19 seats, agreed to join Syriza.
Shares on European markets closed at a four-month low Tuesday, with traders blaming the uncertainty over Greece’s willingness to carry out its obligations, including new austerity measures next month. The euro fell slightly against the dollar. Stocks in the U.S. also suffered, with the Dow Jones Industrial ending the trading day down 76.44 points.
Tsipras has until Friday to assemble his coalition, but it now seems beyond reach. The once mighty ruling Pasok party, which voters reduced to an ignominious third place Sunday, has even slimmer prospects, and the sole hope for avoiding elections is if the parties agree to a government of national unity, prospects for which are uncertain at best.
In voting no confidence in the main centrist parties Sunday, Greeks made clear that the EU austerity program, imposed largely at German behest, isn’t working and that no one wants the tough measures still to come.
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