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New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras began trying to put together a government after a Greek election that raised fresh questions about the country’s euro membership and triggered the biggest stock-market drop in six months.
Samaras was given three days from today to put together a coalition from an assembly split down the middle on whether to renege on the terms of bailout agreements negotiated since May 2010. New Democracy and the socialist Pasok party, rivals until the country’s crisis threw them into a national government together this year, are two seats short of the 151 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
“We respect the will of the Greek people,” Samaras told President Karolos Papoulias in Athens today as he formally received the mandate. Exploratory talks to form a government began immediately and Samaras’s first meeting with Alexis Tsipras, the head of Syriza, which came in second place, ended with Tsipras saying he’d rejected an offer to join a coalition.
New Democracy led in the election, receiving 19 percent of the vote and 108 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. Syriza got 17 percent to score 52 seats; Pasok came third with 13 percent and 41 seats.
As voters across Europe rebel against austerity measures imposed to stamp out the debt crisis, Citigroup Inc. said today that the risk of Greece leaving the euro by the end of 2013 has risen as high as 75 percent. Yesterday’s election propelled into Parliament one party that wants to put land mines on the border with Turkey to stop illegal immigrants and another that wants Germany, the country’s biggest donor, to pay World War II reparations. The benchmark ASE Stock index plunged 6.7 percent in Athens today, its biggest drop in six months.
“The risk is huge that Greece will not have in the near future a government ready and able to fully continue the current adjustment program,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, said in an e-mailed note. “The Greek result adds to the risk that Europe could turn off the flow of support funds and thus force Greece to leave the euro.”
Samaras will probably focus his advances on the Democratic Left, which won 19 seats in Parliament and rejects austerity measures yet is in favour of remaining in the euro, said Lefteris Farmakis, a strategist at Nomura International Plc in London.
For now, Democratic Left has indicated it doesn’t want to join a government with New Democracy and Pasok. He will meet with Fotis Kouvelis, the head of the leftist party, later today, after meetings with Pasok leader and former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos declined to meet with Samaras, NET TV reported, without saying where it got the information. Kammenos’s party secured 33 seats in the parliament.
If Samaras fails to get the necessary number of seats, the onus on forming a government will fall to bailout opponent Syriza, a coalition of left parties, which has vowed to cancel the bailout terms. After that, Pasok takes the baton.
If the nine-day process fails to yield a coalition, President Papoulias must try to broker a government of national unity, the constitution says. If that process fails, the Greek constitution stipulates that new elections are to be held.
Even if a new government is formed, it may not survive for long, said Spyros Economides, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics.
“How long will they be able to cohabit?” Economides said in a phone interview. “The question is, if you’re a supporter of the pro-European line, can you get the sticky-tape out and hold them together for six months or are you going to have a second election before the summer?”
Greece’s ASE Stock Index dropped as much as 8.3 percent to 632.77 points, close to the 20-year low of 626 hit in January. Shares of Alpha Bank SA fell 19 percent. National Bank of Greece (TELL) SA, the nation’s largest lender, dropped by 8.3 percent. The euro also fell as French socialist Francois Hollande defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in the country’s presidential election yesterday. The single currency dropped 0.3 percent to $1.3041.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Greece to stick to its commitments.
“It is of utmost importance” that the international rescue programs agreed to with Greece “continue to be implemented” even after a “not uncomplicated” election result, Merkel said today in Berlin. “The process is a difficult one, but despite that it should go on.”
With anti-bailout rhetoric benefiting parties as diverse as Golden Dawn, which wants land mines along Greece’s borders to halt immigrants, and Independent Greeks, which wants Germany to pay compensation for World War II war crimes, Pasok and New Democracy’s coalition partners are limited. Democratic Left might be convinced to join because of its more clearly European orientation, Nomura’s Farmakis said. “It’s the only realistic coalition partner.”
The Communist Party won 8.5 percent and will get 26 seats. Anti-immigrant Golden Dawn got 7 percent of the vote with 21 seats, entering Parliament for the first time.
The success of anti-bailout parties in the Greek election may spark speculation about the country’s ability to push through the cuts needed to ensure funds keep flowing from Europe. At the same time, European taxpayers now hold the bulk of the country’s debt, meaning governments may have little option but to keep the country’s finances afloat.
Of Greece’s 266 billion euros ($347 billion) of debt, about 194 billion euros, or 73 percent, is held by the European Central Bank, euro-area governments and the International Monetary Fund, according to the Greek Debt Management Office in Athens. In 2010, before the first bailout, Greece owed about 310 billion euros, all to the private sector.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann became the first major European leader today to reopen the debate about Greece’s membership of the euro.
“Every country can decide to leave the common euro area, of course Greece can as well,” Faymann told Austrian state radio ORF. “You just have to know what it means -- and the Greeks will have to consider that.”
Tsipras, the head of Syriza, said voters had given him a mandate to renege on bailout agreements negotiated with the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
“The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism,” Tsipras, 37, said on state-run NET TV late yesterday. He said he would begin talks with parties of the Greek left to achieve that goal. The head of the Communist Party, Aleka Papariga, said she won’t team up with Syriza.
The Greek election result came amid unemployment of almost 22 percent and a jobless rate of almost 51 percent for those under the age of 24.
Voter turnout was 65 percent, the Interior Ministry said on its website.
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