ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers failed to elect a new president Thursday, stoking concerns the country is fast approaching early elections that would likely sweep the main anti-bailout opposition party to power.
The conservative-led government's candidate, Stavros Dimas, received 168 votes in Tuesday's ballot, eight more than in the first round but far short of the 200 needed for his election.
The government has one more chance before parliament has to be dissolved. In the final round of voting on Dec. 29, a reduced total of 180 in the 300-seat parliament is required to elect Dimas, a conservative former European commissioner. If it fails to twist the arms of another 12 lawmakers, then elections will be called in a month.
Fears of protracted instability in Greece have grown in recent weeks, putting pressure on the country's financial markets. On Tuesday, the yield on Greece's benchmark 10-year bond rose 0.10 percentage points, to 8.26 percent. At that level, Athens is effectively locked out of borrowing in international markets. The main stock market is also down 1.7 percent.
Investors think early elections could prompt a change in policy in Greece, which has only recently emerged from a severe six-year recession. The main opposition party, Syriza, has said it wants the country's bailout program to be renegotiated. Syriza is leading in the polls.
"Despite further attempts by Syriza's leader to provide assurances that he is committed to keeping Greece in the euro and maintaining a balanced primary budget, investors remain concerned about the possibility of debt restructuring and an unwinding of austerity," said Sarah Pemberton, European economist at Capital Economics.
Greece has survived on 240 billion euros ($295 billion) worth of rescue loans from its partners in the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. In return for the money, successive governments had to implement draconian spending cuts, hike taxes and enact a wide array of economic reforms.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras urged opposition lawmakers to back Dimas, saying they hold the country's interests in their hands.
"I hope that in the third vote we will avoid the national danger, the tribulations that threaten the country," he said. "(Then) every lawmaker will find themselves face to face with Greeks' anxieties and ... will assume their responsibility."
Samaras cannot get Dimas elected without opposition backing, and has offered to set a timetable for early elections by the end of 2015.
Syriza is demanding immediate elections.
"Neither parliament nor the people will give Mr. Samaras a blank check, to continue with the bailout agreements, and impose ... austerity measures that cut pensions, increase the price of medicines, and loot society," Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said after Tuesday's vote.