ATHENS, Greece – A new anti-austerity party formed by rebel lawmakers who quit the governing left-wing Syriza was given its chance Monday to seek government coalition partners and prevent Greece from holding its third national vote this year.
Former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the newly formed Popular Unity, received the maximum three-day mandate from the country’s president after the head of the main opposition conservative New Democracy failed to form a government.
Neither of the two parties was expected to find willing coalition partners, and early elections are practically guaranteed in September following the resignation of Prime Minister Alexis’ Tsipras last week, seven months into his four-year term. The most likely date is seen as Sept. 20.
The renewed political uncertainty has hammered the Athens Stock Exchange, which was down 8.2 per cent in afternoon trading Monday, dragged down by Europe-wide jitters after China’s market tumbled. That followed two straight days of losses last week on election concerns.
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Tsipras resigned on Thursday following a rebellion in his party over Greece’s new bailout, which saw dozens of Syriza lawmakers dissent and vote against him when the deal came to a vote in Parliament.
Syriza hardliners blasted the party’s young leader for reneging on the promises which brought him to power in January elections to repeal austerity measures imposed in return for Greece’s two previous international bailouts.
Already on an election footing, the new party has become one of Tsipras’ fiercest critics.
“Some people think that they can hide the consequences of the (bailout agreements) from the Greek people,” Lafazanis said, commenting on Tsipras’ decision to trigger elections, as he met with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to receive the mandate to form a government. “This is democratic backtracking, if not an undemocratic aberration.”
Despite acknowledging there was no chance of forming a government, Popular Unity has said it will keep the mandate for the full three days.
“We don’t have illusions, an anti-(bailout) government cannot be formed by this parliament,” Lafazanis said. “But we will use this mandate to show that the only thing that works toward the interest of the country and the Greek people is to have a new anti-(bailout) parliament.”
Tsipras has insisted he had no choice but to accept the steep tax hikes and deep spending cuts demanded by European creditors in return for the country’s new three-year, 86 billion euros ($99 billion) bailout, to prevent Greece from a potentially catastrophic default and being forced out of Europe’s joint currency.
A war of words erupted between New Democracy and Syriza over the weekend when Tsipras refused to meet with New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis as part of the exploratory mandate.
“Unfortunately, the country is being led to a catastrophic, in my opinion, course that could have been avoided, with the responsibility of Mr. Tsipras,” Meimarakis said during his meeting with Pavlopoulos. “I believe he can still understand that he must meet with us so there can be, even now, an effort at agreement so we can avoid such a course.”
Under electoral regulations, each of the three largest parties in Parliament has a maximum three days to seek coalition partners. If no coalition can be formed, the president convenes a meeting of party leaders in a last-ditch attempt to find consensus before a caretaker government is appointed and an election date is set.
This looms as the third time this year that Greeks head to the ballot box, after the January election and a July referendum Tsipras called within a week, urging voters to reject creditor reform demands – which they overwhelmingly did.
Despite his about-face, Tsipras is expected to win the election. But it is highly uncertain whether he will be able to form a government on his own, or will once again be forced to seek a coalition partner. After the January vote, he formed a coalition government with the small nationalist Independent Greeks, with which Syriza agreed on policy and ideology only on opposing bailout deals.
Now Tsipras will find himself having to advocate for the implementation of measures he was elected on promises to abolish and then campaigned actively to reject.
©2015The Canadian Press