Greece faces tricky task of forming coalition | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.06.2012
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Greece faces tricky task of forming coalition

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, whose party came out strongest in Greek parliamentary elections, is keen to form an inclusive coalition. However, it won't be an easy task.

Apart from Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing party who refuses to join a coalition government and who would rather be in the opposition, all leading politicians in Greece agree that the country needs a functioning government. But that's easier said than done.

Leader of the New Democracy conservative party Antonis Samaras leaves an elections booth after speaking to his supporters at Syntagma square in Athens, Sunday, June 17, 2012

Samaras: a winner with a mammoth task

Prime Minister designate Antonis Samaras, of the conservative New Democracy party (ND), wasted no time on Sunday evening and declared that he would form a government as soon as possible. He will need at least one coalition partner to cooperate. But he doesn't have a lot of choices - the left has already said no to a coalition, the populist right-leaning Panos Kammenos would not be a reliable partner, and getting the far-right on board is not really an option.

That leaves two options only - the seasoned socialist Pasok party and the social democratic splinter group called the Democratic Left.

Venizelos is key

Samaras only needs the Pasok party to make up the numbers for a functioning coalition. The two parties would have 162 seats in the 300-seat parliament - 12 more than they need for an absolute majority.

After the last round of talks following the early elections in May, Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos was the one who spearheaded the search for a coalition government. Now, having come third, he is surprisingly skeptical. He has said he would only join a coalition if the left party, which came second, did too.

Evangelos Venizelos, the head of the Socialist PASOK party, arrives in parliament for a meeting with Conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras in Athens June 18, 2012

Venizelos is criticized for playing tactical games

Observers in Athens think that this hesitation is merely a tactical move by the former finance minister. "Venizelos only wants to join the government if he gets an explicit invitation. But I don't think we've got time for this sort of game at the moment," analyst Alexis Papachelas said on Greek channel Skai TV.

Venizelos' Pasok party had suffered the worst election result in its history. It looks like Venizelos now fears that his party could fall apart, so he is keen to strengthen his political profile before agreeing to a coalition government with an uncertain future.

The conservative-liberal daily Eleftheros Typos also emphasizes that Venizelos cannot afford to stick to his skeptical tactics, saying that "Venizelos could hardly explain to European socialists why he has said no to a coalition government when our country is staring into the abyss."

Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left Party, exits a polling booth in Athens

Kouvelis is not a fan of the austerity program

Tolerating a minority government

If Venizelos sticks to his guns, Samaras could join forces with the Democratic Left - but with a combined 146 seats they would not achieve a majority in parliament. What's more, the chairman of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, is adamant that Greece should be gradually weaned off the austerity program.

The second-best option would be to convince Venizelos to tolerate a minority government - with or without the Democratic Left - for now. But it is not clear yet if Samaras is even willing to head such a government.

The New Democracy chief has three days to form a government. If he fails, the constitution stipulates that the head of the radical-left Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, tries to do the same. But he has already indicated that he is not willing to form a coalition. In that case, Venizelos as the head of the third-strongest party, would try his luck. If he fails as well, President Karolos Papoulias would - just like he did in May - step in and mediate between the parties.

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou / ng
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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