Early elections for Greece expected next month

The president has appointed the head of the Supreme Court to be interim prime minister.

Alkis Konstantinidis/REUTERS
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (r.) welcomes Popular Unity far-left leader Panagiotis Lafazanis at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece August 27, 2015. Greece's far-left leader on Thursday formally gave up a bid to form a coalition government, allowing the country's president to finally set a date for early elections after a week of fruitless political wrangling.

Greece came one step closer on Thursday to early elections with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos appointing the head of the country's Supreme Court as caretaker prime minister to lead the country to next month's polls.

Vassiliki Thanou, 65, will be voted into office later Thursday, becoming Greece's first female prime minister. She will hold the position until a new government emerges from the vote expected on Sept. 20.

Her appointment comes a week after outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned barely seven months into his four-year term following a rebellion in his radical left Syriza party over his agreement to austerity terms tied to Greece's third international bailout.

Syriza hardliners were furious that Tsipras signed the deal that demands even harsher spending cuts and tax hikes than those he had vowed to abolish when he was elected in January. The deal was approved with support from opposition parties.

The 41-year-old prime minister has argued he was left with no choice but to accept European creditors' demands, in order to avoid Greece defaulting on its debts and being forced out of the euro currency the country shares with another 18 European nations.

Thanou will appoint a Cabinet that will be sworn in on Friday.

Pavlopoulos announced her appointment after parliament's three largest parties failed to find willing coalition partners. The last to hold the mandate to form a government was former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who created the new Popular Unity party last week after splitting from Syriza.

Greece has relied on funds from two bailouts by other European countries and the International Monetary Fund totaling nearly €240 billion ($270 billion) since 2010.

The second bailout expired earlier this year, and Tsipras insisted he could negotiate a better deal for his country. But the talks with creditors floundered and eventually collapsed in June, with Tsipras calling a referendum and urging Greeks to vote against creditor demands. They overwhelmingly did so, but the prime minister eventually signed up to even stricter demands in return for a third bailout worth €86 billion ($97 billion).

Despite his about-face on policies, Tsipras is expected to win the next election although it's unclear whether he will secure enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. He has ruled out a coalition with any of the centrist opposition parties: center-right New Democracy, the socialist PASOK party or the small centrist To Potami party.

Unless other smaller parties manage to enter Parliament, that would leave his current coalition partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks.

It is unlikely he would form a government with Popular Unity, formed by Syriza dissenters, the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, whose leader and lawmakers still face criminal charges, or the communist KKE party.

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