Tsipras Strikes Out – Now it’s Venizelos’ Turn

Tsipras Strikes Out – Now it’s Venizelos’ Turn

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SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras (L) handed the mandate baton over to PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos

ATHENS – After Alexis Tsipras, leader of the SYRIZA Radical Coalition of the Left, failed in his bid to create a coalition government in the wake of Greece’s May 6 elections which resulted in a mandate against austerity measures by five of the seven parties, the seemingly impossible task has been handed to PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose party finished third with a paltry 13.3 percent of the vote. SYRIZA had finished a surprising second but – as did New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, whose party won with only 18.8 percent – Tsipras couldn’t rally the forces to create a government.

If Venizelos fails, President Karolos Papoulias will try to broker a last-ditch deal. If he’s not successful, another election will be called, already tentatively set for June 17. The developments are being closely watched by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), which is loaning Greece two bailouts worth $325 billion to prop up the country’s failed economy.

The Troika has warned any attempts by the next government to tinker with demands, including another $15 billion cut in spending for Greeks already hammered by pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, would result in the money pipeline being turned off. Tsipras wanted Venizelos and Samaras, whose parties supported austerity, to revoke their signatures from the memorandum with the Troika but they refused, saying it would force Greece out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency and into economic catastrophe.

Venizelos is widely unpopular in Greece for doubling income and property taxes and taxing the poor while serving as Finance Minister in a shaky hybrid government with New Democracy. His party has been seen as discredited after losing 2.1 million votes from the 2009 elections, which it won with 44 percent of the vote just before the Greek economic crisis went out of control and forced Greece to borrow survival money.

In a televised meeting with Papoulias, Venizelos pledged to “explore all possibilities” in his bid to form a unified government, even as serious doubts lingered about his ability to broker a deal with his political rivals. He told reporters outside the Presidential mansion that he would approach all parties in favor of keeping Greece in the Eurozone, starting with conservative New Democracy, SYRIZA and the seventh-place finishers, the Democratic Left. New Democracy and SYRIZA had approached him during their turn and he refused to work with them.

“Things are not easy and I am not saying I am optimistic but I am determined to serve the national interest,” he said. But, Venizelos said the election result was a clear message that the Greek people rejected the dominance of any one party. “It is clear from the result that the people want a coalition government, handing no clear mandate to any single party,” Venizelos told his party’s deputies. “The Greek people want to remain in the euro.”

In a speech earlier to his party’s parliamentary group, Venizelos said that voters had punished PASOK, perceiving it as responsible for the crisis. He also accused Tsipras of misrepresenting his position on forming a coalition, noting that he did not want a “transitional government” that would freeze Greece’s reform process, but a unity coalition. Venizelos was responding to the Tsipras’ charge that he and Samaras had only pretended to seek a solution to the political deadlock.

Tsipras told Papoulias that he had “exhausted every possibility and scope for creating a government compatible with the popular mandate.” Papoulias expressed “sorrow” at Tsipras’ inability to form a coalition and added, in comments reported later by state television NET, that he was uncertain how long it would take to form a new government, referring to a “Gordian Knot.”

Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga, who refused Tsipras’ offer to make her Prime Minister if she joined him, told a press conference that the only way out of the current political deadlock were fresh elections. She said she would refuse to work with any other party in forming a government as KKE is anti-European and vehemently opposed to the deals with the Troika.

The leader of the small liberal party, Drasi, which failed to win any seats in Parliament has predicted that New Democracy and PASOK may be wiped out if new polls are held next month. Drasi chief Stefanos Manos said the poor showing of PASOK and New Democracy, who gained a combined total of 32 percent, is undermining the process. “The problem is not Alexis Tsipras, it is the complete destruction of New Democracy and PASOK,” Manos told Skai TV. Manos said that if new elections are held in the next few weeks, PASOK and New Democracy could “no longer exist.”

Drasi only gained 1.8 percent of the vote on Sunday but is now looking to cooperate with other liberal parties. Manos said that he had already been in contact with Dora Bakoyannis, the head of Democratic Alliance (DISY), to discuss a pact. DISY gained 2.55 percent.

“Drasi is trying to create a pro-reform front with parties that want Greece to remain in the euro,” said Manos. “We already have an understanding with Dora Bakoyannis and have discussed the possibility of accepting New Democracy members to join this effort,” he said.

(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters, Bloomberg, AP)