Greeks near deal on 3-party coalition

The alliance would support an international bailout but try to ease some requirements.

Posted: June 20, 2012

ATHENS - Top Greek political parties were close Tuesday to forming a coalition government to try to steer the country back to economic health and provide it with its first elected leadership in more than seven months.

Talks continued on a power-sharing agreement in which Antonis Samaras, who led the center-right New Democracy Party to a first-place finish in Sunday's election, would become prime minister in alliance with traditional rivals from the Socialist Party and the smaller Democratic Left.

Considered a solid but not unshakable coalition, the three-party alliance would control 179 seats in the 300-member assembly - and support an international bailout package against opposition from the upstart Syriza Party and other anti-bailout groups.

Samaras has said that he would try to ease some of the measures required by the plan in return for international loans, but that Greece must abide by the basic commitments made to its lenders if it expects to keep its standing in the eurozone.

It is in some ways a startling turn for New Democracy, on the verge of coming back to power even though it was the party that governed Greece during boom years in which some of the country's current problems were allowed to fester.

The three-party coalition is Greece's "one remaining practical solution" to install a government promptly and try to revive its international bailout program after weeks of political stalemate, said Socialist leader and former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos. His comments came as bartering continued over control of several ministries and the strategy to pursue with international lenders.

The Socialists finished third in Sunday's vote, a humiliating collapse for a once-dominant party. Voters blamed the previous Socialist government, led by George Papandreou, for ushering in the austerity program demanded by the bailout plan.

Venizelos, quoted on the Athens News website as the latest round of meetings ended, said the coalition was prepared for a "bitter renegotiation."

The new government will immediately open talks with the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission over where the Greek economy stands after weeks in which work on various economic-policy changes and budget projects ground to a halt in anticipation of the election. There may be room to slow the timetable of the bailout plan - the IMF actually argued for more gradual deficit-cutting when the program was negotiated in March - but it is not expected that the fund or European officials will back wholesale changes.

"We are talking about ensuring that Greece gets a government and that this government takes full ownership of the program and implements it to put the country back on track," European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said at a briefing in Brussels, Belgium, the Athens News website reported.

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