ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Parliament failed to elect a new Greek president in the first round of voting Wednesday, leaving another two tries before the government falls and early elections have to be called.
The conservative-led government's candidate, former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas, received 160 votes, far short of the 200 needed for an outright win.
A second round, which also would require 200 for a victory, will now be held on Dec. 23, while a third round will take place on Dec. 29, when a tally of 180 votes will suffice.
The votes come amid stalled negotiations between bailed-out Greece and its international creditors. The renewed political instability has roiled international markets, sending Greece's borrowing costs spiraling and its stock exchange index plunging just as the country was nearing the end of its bailout.
The two-party coalition has 155 seats and requires backing from opposition or independent lawmakers to ensure Dimas' election on Dec. 29.
"There are another two rounds ahead of us," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said as he left parliament after Wednesday's vote. "I hold hope that a (new) president will be elected. The conditions are difficult for the country, and I am certain that lawmakers are aware that the country must not enter troubled times."
If the Dec. 29 vote proves inconclusive, parliament will be dissolved and Samaras must call snap national elections in early 2015, a year and a half before his original mandate expires.
The anti-bailout left-wing Syriza party is ahead in opinion polls, although with too small a lead to govern alone.
Lawmakers are voting for a president, but the position is a figurehead and the true issue is whether to keep the coalition government in power or trigger early elections.
Hours before Wednesday's ballot, Samaras' office issued a statement saying a vote for Dimas was not one in favor of the government, but would mark a decision "to avoid a political adventure that could prove fatal to the country's European course."
Syriza has long called for early elections and has campaigned on promises to renegotiate Greece's deeply resented bailout commitments. That possibility, comments about reversing reforms, and hints about the possibility of Greece not repaying some of its debts have spooked international markets.
Samaras announced last week he was bringing forward the presidential vote, originally scheduled for early 2015.