* Socialist and conservative leaders meet early Friday
* Attempt to form coalition government looks doubtful
* Final effort required before new elections called
* Poll shows elections would give victory to radical leftist
By Harry Papachristou and Peter Graff
ATHENS, May 11 The leaders of Greece's
once-dominant political parties make their final effort on
Friday to form a coalition and avert a new election, which a
poll showed would all but wipe them out and give victory to a
radical leftist who rejects an EU bailout.
The overwhelming majority of Greeks want to stay in the euro
zone but voted last Sunday for parties that reject the severe
terms of a bailout negotiated last year. European leaders say
Greece will be ejected from the common currency if it turns its
back on the package of tax hikes and wage cuts.
Socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose party once
towered over Greek politics but placed a distant third in the
election, will be the last politician given a chance to form a
He was due to meet conservative rival Antonis Samaras, whose
New Democracy party came first in the election, but who has
already failed to form a coalition. If Venizelos fails as well,
all parties will have one last chance to try before a new
election must be held in the coming three to four weeks.
PASOK and New Democracy jointly negotiated the 130 billion
euro ($168.5 billion) EU/IMF bailout in a reluctant coalition
last year and now are the only parties in parliament that
Enraged voters punished them by reducing their combined
share of the vote from 77 percent to 32 percent at last Sunday's
election, leaving them two seats short of forming a coalition
Samaras and Venizelos may be hoping Greeks, frightened by
the prospect of hasty ejection from the euro, will return to the
two traditional mainstream parties if the election is re-run
But a new poll showed the main beneficiary of a new vote
would be the hardline Left Coalition SYRIZA, whose leader Alexis
Tsipras rejects the bailout and has demanded it be torn up.
The first opinion poll to be published since the election
showed SYRIZA would win with 27.7 percent of the vote, almost 11
points up on their election result, consolidating votes that had
been split among smaller anti-bailout groups.
Under a rule designed to make it easier to form a
government, the party that places first gets 50 bonus seats in
the 300 seat parliament.
Those seats went to New Democracy on Sunday. If SYRIZA were
to win them in a new election, the marginalisation of the
once-mighty parties would be complete and it would be impossible
to form a government supporting the bailout.
Venizelos's hope of reaching a last-ditch deal have rested
with the Democratic Left party, a small moderate splinter group.
But its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, insisted on Friday he would
not join a coalition with the pro-bailout parties unless
anti-bailout parties were also included and the new government
pulled out of the loan deal.
"Our proposal for an ecumenical government seeks to ensure
the participation of all those forces that can serve two aims:
the gradual disengagement from the loan agreement and staying in
the euro zone", Kouvelis told Skai TV.
One socialist party official said on Thursday there was a
"very slim" chance for a coalition if Kouvelis agreed, "but his
party is split right down the middle."
The political deadlock has prompted warnings by European
leaders that Greece could be thrown out of the euro if it does
not stick to the spending cuts and economic reforms required by
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Europe and
the International Monetary Fund were still determined to help
Greece, but the country could not be helped if it did not help
The EU and IMF say they will not give Greece any more money
under the bailout until it has a government in place that renews
its commitment to the terms agreed last year. Greece could run
out of money as soon as the end of June if the loans stop.
"We do not have an infinite amount of time. Time is flying
because there are financing needs, but the first steps have to
be taken now from the Greek side," European Central Bank
governing council member Ewald Nowotny said in Vienna.
A senior SYRIZA party official said European leaders were
bluffing by threatening to eject Greece from the euro to force
it to stick to the bailout terms.
"Not only can't Greece be kicked out of the euro, they will
be begging us to take the money," because if Greece were kicked
out the crisis would spread to other European countries and the
euro would collapse, said Dimitris Stratoulis.
The prospect that Greece might declare bankruptcy and be
pushed out of the euro caused panic across the single currency
zone last year. But since then, European banks have written off
the value of most of their Greek debt, which makes them less
susceptible to shock if Greece should default.