President Karolos Papoulias will become the fourth and final leader tasked with cobbling together a coalition from the disparate winning parties from last weekend's elections. If he fails, Greece will vote again.
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos was poised to formally inform the Greek president that he could not form a coalition government on Saturday, having already publicly admitted defeat on Friday. Venizelos was the third Greek leader to throw in the towel, following the conservative New Democracy's Antonis Samaras and Alexis Tsipras of the left-wing Syriza bloc, as Greece's main parties remain divided over the terms of emergency loans from the international community.
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 they fail, the duty falls to President Karolos Papoulias - with fresh elections the only alternative option should Papoulias fail.
Greece's traditional main parties, the Socialists and New Democracy, both support the terms of the country's so-called bailouts - or at least consider them necessary - while the other successful groupings like Syriza and the far-right Golden Dawn party reject them.
The unpopular austerity measures and labor reforms in Greece are preconditions for the payment of future installments of emergency loan packages from European partners and the International Monetary Fund.
Socialist Pasok leader Venizelos, who negotiated the terms as finance minister under the previous administration, said on Friday that he hoped Papoulias might succeed where partisan leaders had failed.
"I am going to inform the president of the republic and I hope that during the meeting with Karolos Papoulias, each party will assume its responsibilities," Venizelos told reporters in Athens.
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.
Without agreement, another snap election in June is most likely; one opinion poll published on Friday 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 monies," 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."
msh/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)