Complete official election returns confirmed Monday that Greek voters had failed for the second time in five months to choose a new government, and President Christos Sartzetakis asked caretaker Prime Minister Yannis Gravis to remain in office while the dust settles.
Conservatives who finished first in Sunday's vote but fell short of the necessary majority said they will try to form a one-party minority government to break the left-right impasse. President Sartzetakis may let them make this long-shot attempt, but the constitution does not require that he do so.
If, as most observers expect, backstage maneuvering fails to produce a stable government, Greece must vote again--possibly as early as next month but almost certainly no later than March.
The standoff is as disconcerting to the United States and Greece's partners in the European Community as it is to the Greeks themselves. Europe is alarmed by Greece's fall into ever greater economic distress.
The United States is eager to resume talks on renewing leases on four military bases in Greece. The bases have been put on notice to close in mid-1990, but now there is no government with which to negotiate.
Constantine Mitsotakis, the 71-year-old leader of the New Democracy Party, said he will tell Sartzetakis this morning that he wants to form a government for submission to Parliament for a vote of confidence in about two weeks.
Sartzetakis can agree to let him try or can refuse if he thinks there is no chance that Mitsotakis can get Parliament's support for his programs. In Sunday's election, New Democracy won 148 of the 300 seats in Parliament, 3 shy of a majority.
"Mitsotakis can produce the sort of government plan that can win in Parliament," New Democracy spokesman Andreas Andrianopoulous said. "Otherwise, we will have to go again to elections."
In Greece, a parliamentary vote of confidence is secret and requires a majority of those present and voting. The conservatives hope that they can persuade enough moderate Socialists to vote with them, or perhaps cajole an abstaining "vote of tolerance" from the Communists, who are the third bloc in Parliament.
Analysts say that if Mitsotakis survives in an initial vote, he might limp through until scheduled presidential elections in March, but only as head of a government too weak to initiate needed economic reforms, or to address pressing issues of foreign policy.
In addition to talks on the bases, the United States seeks Greek government endorsement of a judicial deportation order against a jailed Palestinian accused of an airliner bombing over Hawaii in 1982 that killed one person and injured 15.
Communists joined with conservatives in an interim government after the June election, but only for the purpose of investigating corruption in the outgoing government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. As a result of the investigation, Papandreou and four of his senior ministers face trial.
Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Movement ran second in Sunday's election, winning 128 seats. A Communist coalition won 21 seats, and the remaining three went to two independent leftists and a Greek Muslim.
If Mitsotakis cannot form a government, under Greek law Papandreou will be invited to try.
He dreams of a grand alliance of the left, but the Communists despise him.
The Greek stock market slumped Monday, apparently out of concern that the economic situation will worsen in the absence of a stable government.
Greek economic growth is slower than in the rest of the European Community; its inflation is nearly four times higher, its foreign debt is $52.7 billion and the public payroll is heavily padded. Conservatives say the Papandreou government added 90,000 public workers in the first six months of this year. Dozens of state enterprises are uneconomical.