Venizelos gets the mandate, but new elections still probable in Greece

UPDATE, 2:45 pm ET: After Venizelos (left) met with Kouvelis (right) earlier today, it appears that Greece is a bit closer to forming a governing coalition, although it remains unclear to me which parties would join such a unity coalition:

“The moment of truth is approaching for everyone,” said Kouvelis, who has so far had a guarded approach to entering a unity government. “I propose the formation of an ecumenical government made up of trustworthy political figures that will reflect and respect the message from the elections.”

Kouvelis, whose appeal seemed to be directed at [SYRIZA] and New Democracy, added that this government should have a specific goal.

“This government’s mission, which will have a specific program and timeframe that will last until the European elections of 2014, will be twofold: Firstly, to keep the country in the European Union and euro and, secondly, to being the gradual disengagement from the [EU-IMF] memorandum.”

Kouvelis had previously indicated his willingness to join a SYRIZA-led coalition, and Venizelos will meet with Tsipras and Samaras on Friday.

Together, PASOK, SYRIZA and the Democratic Left would only command 119 seats, but a coalition of New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left would command 168 seats.  Based on the past 72 hours, I cannot see any unity government that would bring together New Democracy and SYRIZA into the same government, so I think that any Kouvelis-endorsed coalition would include New Democracy and not SYRIZA.

Although Kouvelis has been touted as a potential prime minister, it is hard to see Samaras standing down as prime minister in favor of Kouvelis — it is New Democracy, after all, that would contribute 108 of the 168 seats in such a coalition.

One possibility, perhaps, is that Venizelos is willing to pull PASOK further away from its pro-bailout position and from its former caolition partner, New Democracy.  If the 33 seats from the center-right, but anti-bailout Independent Greeks are somehow in play: a PASOK-SYRIZA-Democratic Left-Independent Greeks coalition would carry 152 seats.

The supposed breakthrough comes as the first post-election poll shows that SYRIZA would win a second vote in June with 27.7% to just 20.3% for New Democracy and with PASOK languishing in third place at 12.6%.  With SYRIZA’s popularity climbing, Venizelos and Kouvelis know that it will come largely at the expense of their own parties, which may be driving them toward a coalition government, thereby avoiding new elections.

Stay tuned!

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Evangelos Venizelos received the mandate today from Greece’s president to form a coalition government following Sunday’s scrambled election result that left no party in a position to form a majority government and saw both major parties receive less than one-third of the total votes.  The opportunity follows admission each of Antonis Samaras, leader of the center-right New Democracy and Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist SYRIZA, that they could not form a coalition government. 

As noted, I think the chances of Venizelos, the leader of the third-place PASOK, Greece’s pro-bailout, but traditionally Greece’s main leftist party, forming a coalition are very unlikely.  The reality is that new elections remain the most likely choice.  Any new elections will likely see SYRIZA and the anti-bailout parties, emboldened with the momentum of Sunday’s anti-establishment result, gain at the expense of the two major parties, but especially PASOK, whose longtime leftist supporters have always been skeptical about the socialist party carrying the banner of savage austerity. So Venizelos, even more than Samaras and especially more than Tsipras, has a real incentive to prevent new elections.

 If it were possible for PASOK to join New Democracy for a ‘grand coalition’ to provide continued support to seeing through the budget cuts and other terms of the most recent bailout, Samaras would have likely been able to assemble that coalition during his attempt to form a government — together, New Democracy and PASOK command just 149 seats in the Hellenic parliament, two short of a majority.

If it were, likewise possible for PASOK to turn to the other allies on the left to form a government, Tsipras would have been in a better position to form that government.

So unless Venizelos can pull some ad hoc support from members of the more moderate anti-bailout left — unlikely, given that Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Left, announced his support for a SYRIZA-led anti-bailout coalition two days ago — Greece is no closer to a resolution than it was three days ago: new elections in mid-June are still very much likely.

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