Athens: Rival Greek party leaders were locked in a second day of power-sharing talks on Tuesday, with two potential minority partners voicing hope that a pro-bailout coalition government can be quickly formed after the debt-crippled country`s second inconclusive election in six weeks.
At the core of any administration will be Antonis Samaras` New Democracy party, which came first in Sunday`s vote and won 129 of Parliament`s 300 seats, but not enough to govern alone.
Samaras is seeking an alliance with the third-placed Socialist PASOK and the smaller Democratic Left party, which would broadly fulfill Greece`s pledges to its bailout creditors for further cutbacks and reforms, keeping the country within Europe`s joint currency. Otherwise, Greece would run out of cash and the continent could plunge deeper into a financial nightmare with global repercussions.
The main sticking point promises to be how much Greece is willing to tempt fate by seeking a more lenient deal from creditors fed up with missed targets and broken reform pledges.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos met on Tuesday with Democratic Left head Fotis Kouvelis, who told reporters afterward that a three-party deal could potentially be achieved "within hours." Kouvelis said parties first had to agree on a policy platform, and on who would be appointed to the Cabinet.
"I believe the process is gathering speed, the country must have a government ... And in the next hours, if there is an agreement ... It will be possible for us to proceed," he said. Kouvelis insisted that parts of Greece`s harsh austerity program must be revised, saying the country "has been pulverized by pitiless measures."
Venizelos, who has pressed for an agreement by tonight, said he was optimistic a deal could be reached.
"I am confident after my meeting with Mr Kouvelis, our views are very close," he said. "Greece must, and will, have a government as soon as possible. We agreed that the necessary processes must be accelerated."
Both the conservatives and PASOK have pledged to respect the commitments for further austerity and reforms that Greece undertook as conditions for two massive international bailouts since May 2010.
They are pressing for an extension of at least two years in the deadline, which would alleviate the immediate impact of new cutbacks and is seen as a likely concession by creditors. The Democratic Left is anti-austerity in principle, but wavering.
Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said any changes to the bailout deal would be "an adaptation of a pragmatic nature" after debt inspectors from major creditors visit Athens.