President Karolos Papoulias has assembled the country's divided political leaders for a fourth and final attempt at piecing together a coalition government. European creditors are watching intently.
The Greek president met first with the leaders of Greece's three strongest political parties around lunch time on Sunday, before continuing his talks with the leaders of four smaller groups that secured enough votes to enter parliament.
President Karolos Papoulias has taken over duties as mediator following the failure of the three most successful party leaders. Conservative New Democracy's Antonis Samaras received the first chance, followed by Alexis Tsipras of the far-left Syriza block, and then the leader of the socialist PASOK party, Evangelos Venizelos.
All three abandoned their efforts, saying they could not assemble a large enough group with compatible policy stances, most crucially on the terms of Greece's international emergency loans.
Should Papoulias' efforts also fail, another election is the only remaining option under the Greek system - it would most likely be held June 10 or June 17. Theoretically, Papoulias' efforts could last until Thursday, May 17, the scheduled date for the opening of the new Greek parliament.
Widespread voter discontent with the terms of the so-called Greek bailouts, forcing the recession-ridden country into extensive spending cuts and labor reforms, have transformed the political landscape in Athens.
Divided over debt
Syriza was catapulted into second position in last Sunday's election, after decades of dominance from New Democracy and PASOK - both of whom sustained heavy losses. The two traditional parties are in favor of largely sticking to the terms of the Greek loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, or seeking to renegotiate them in Brussels. Syriza, meanwhile, rejects them outright, saying that last Sunday's ballot showed the Greek people do too.
Papoulias, Samaras, Tsipras and Venizelos all declined to comment directly after their initial meeting Sunday, though conservative leader Samaras said beforehand that Greece's goal should be slight alterations to the existing agreement.
"The Greek people have given us a mandate to cooperate in order to change policy while staying in the euro. A mandate to cooperate for a viable government at least until European Parliament elections [in 2014]," Samaras told reporters.
Venizelos had talked about "grains of optimism" late on Friday, while acknowledging that the talks were "rather difficult."
Relative newcomer Tsipras, meanwhile, said on Friday that it was "not the Left Coalition that has refused this proposal, but the Greek people."
Despite the massive losses suffered by established political parties at the polls, a Kappa research poll published in the weekly To Vima newspaper ahead of the talks, said that over 70 percent of those surveyed were "desperate for a coalition government that will safeguard eurozone membership."
Greeceis headed for its fifth straight year of recession, with the EU Commission estimating a 4.7 percent economic contraction in 2012.
msh/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)