Greek President Karolos Papoulias is holding talks with leaders of major political parties in a final bid to form a government. If he fails, Greece will vote again.
Greek President Karolos Papoulias is meeting with the leaders of the country's political parties on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to secure a coalition deal and avoid a second general election.
Papoulias summoned the leaders of the three parties that won the most votes in the election that took place in the country last week. They are Antonis Samaras of the conservative New Democracy party, Alexis Tsipras of the left-wing SYRIZA party and Evangelos Venizelos of the socialist PASOK party.
The negotiations started around noon local time (0900 GMT). After these first talks, the president will then meet with the leaders of the other four parties that won enough votes to enter parliament. They are the right-wing and nationalist Independent Greeks, the Communists, Democratic Left and extreme right-wing Golden Dawn.
The meeting comes after the Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos publicly admitted on Friday that he had failed to form a coalition government. Venizelos was the third Greek leader to throw in the towel, after Samaras and Tsipras also failed at the task.
Under the Greek system, the leaders of the three most successful parties are given the chance - in order of popularity - to form a government. If unsuccessful, the duty falls to the president - with fresh elections the only alternative option should he fail.
Greece's traditional main parties, the Socialists and New Democracy, both support the terms of the country's EU/IMF bailouts - or at least consider them necessary - while the other successful groupings like Syriza and the far-right Golden Dawn party strongly oppose them.
Syriza stands firm
Papoulias' task, in essence, is to convince at least one Greek fringe party to ally with New Democracy and Pasok. Venizelos had briefly raised hopes that the small Democratic Left, which holds 19 of 300 available seats, might be prepared to join a coalition government - but the group later said it would not join unless the larger Syriza bloc were also involved.
Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras, whose party leapt to second in the polls on the back of a public backlash against Greek cutbacks, has said his party would not change its stance.
"It is not the Left Coalition that has refused this proposal, but the Greek people who did so with their vote on Sunday," 37-year-old Tsipras said on Friday.
If Papoulios fails to broker a new government, another election will have to be held, most probably on June 10th or 17th. One opinion poll suggested second-placed Syriza might narrowly win a re-run of the vote at New Democracy's expense.
Greece is headed for its fifth successive year of recession, and the European Commission on Friday changed its forecasts to suggest an even bleaker 2012, predicting a 4.7 percent economic contraction.
International partners have been watching keenly as the country seeks to establish a new government. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle again said on Saturday that Greece must stick to its current path.
"If a new government were to unilaterally abandon the deal, then there would also be no further European aid money," Westerwelle told the Saturday edition of the newspaper Die Welt. "We would like Greece to make it. That's why we're helping. But the Greeks must stick to their promises of reform in return."
tj, sej, msh/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)