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With no government in sight Greece headed for fresh elections

Despite fears of impending bankruptcy, Greece's leading political parties remain unable to forge a new government. This comes as no surprise, since Greece has no real tradition of coalition governments.

Coalition talks in Greece are in full swing – but so far have yielded no palpable results. Conservative Antonis Samaras, who as head of the largest party in parliament, gave up after only five hours. The second to have a go was Alexis Tsipras of the radical left Syriza party, who insisted on his extreme leftist agenda, scaring off potential coalition partners. Head of the socialists, Evangelos Venizelos, is now the last to attempt to form a government with few believing that he will be any more successful than the other two.

Antonis Samaras

Conservative Samaras was the first to try and fail to form a coalition

"It's a tactical game: None of the parties wants to take responsibility for new elections because they know that people actually don't want to be heading to the polls again," political analyst Alexis Papachelas told Greek television channel Skai. He said that in fact what the parties wanted where fresh elections within a few weeks to get a more decisive result. But every side was trying to put the blame for the collapse of talks on the others.

A new election would mean that especially the two main parties, the conservatives and the socialists, would practically have to reinvent themselves within as little as 20 days.

No tradition of political compromise

Only seven times in the last 140 years have Greek politicians managed to form coalition governments. There is little tradition of political compromise in the country – many even are suspicious of such compromises. Politics is seen as a game where one side can only win if another side loses. Yet there's another reason for the fixation on single-party government, says Nikos Karavitis, professor for finance at Panteion University in Athens.

Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras from the radical left also didn't manage to to the job

"In the past, there've been influential lobbying groups, putting pressure on politicians," Karavitis said. The political class now would have to distance itself from that past. Only in the spirit of cooperation, would Greece be able to tackle the urgent refoms which, while they may sound simple, will be very difficult to implement, the financial expert said.

Karavitis believes that corruption and lobbying was slowing down the reform efforts in Greece, sometimes even bringing the modernization process entirely to a halt. As one example, he cites the long overdue tax reforms that have already been agreed on, but have yet to be implemented.

Tactical maneuvering

"In June at the latest, the Greek government will have to present a new tax law which will simplify the existing system and successfully tackle tax evasion," Karavitis said. The political parties would need to cooperate, putting aside party rhethoric and mustering the courage to close the loopholes in the tax system. "But they're not doing this because they are afraid to anger their powerful supporters."

Evangelos Venizelos

It's now Socialist Venizelos' turn but few believe he will be successful

The few politicians who for years have been advocating cross-party cooperation, like former socialist health minister Dimitris Kremastinos or conservative economist Kostis Hatzidakis, are usually met with little enthusiasm from within their own parties. After Sunday's debacle, both of the parties at least agree that there needs to be a government of national unity. Before the vote they still had ruled that out. But still, the tactical games are not over yet, believes Alexis Papachelas.

"We almost certainly will see how the head of the socialists, Venizelos, will propose radical leftist Tsipras as prime minister with the mission to renegotiate the bailout deal with the EU and IMF," Papachelas said. This again will be a tactical move, he says.

Venizelos himself has sat through many a long night of negotiations with German Finance Minsiter Schäuble and representatives of the IMF. He knows what the threat of freezing funding feels like, and most likely, notes Papachelas, he wants Tsipras to experience that pressure.

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou / ai
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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