Athens, Greece (CNN) – The leader of the socialist PASOK party in Greece is starting efforts to build a government, his party said Thursday, making him the third Greek politician since Sunday to make the attempt.
Evangelos Venizelos said it was “obvious that the people want stability” and spoke in favor of Greece staying the eurozone, the group of 17 European countries that use a common currency.
“It is a given that we want Greece in the euro,” he said. “We want something better, not something worse.”
Greece has been forced to impose punishing austerity measures to get international loans that have kept it from defaulting on debts, but angry voters punished the politicians in turn in elections on Sunday.
They backed parties on the far left and right, withholding support from PASOK and New Democracy, the more moderate parties that made up the coalition that imposed the austerity cuts.
Venizelos’s PASOK came in third, and his effort to hammer out a workable coalition comes after the heads of the parties that came in first and second admitted defeat.
He has three days to cobble together a deal.
Venizelos said he plans to hold talks with the “pro-European parties”: New Democracy, Syriza and the Democratic Left.
Venizelos is to meet with the leader of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, on Thursday evening and with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras on Friday morning.
He added that voters have proven that they don’t trust “any party on its own.”
If no one can pull together a coalition, and no national unity government can be formed by May 17, Greece must call new elections.
Seven parties won seats in parliament in Sunday’s election, but no party captured more than 19% of the vote.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras gave up efforts to form a coalition government Thursday, after New Democracy leader Samaris threw in the towel on Monday.
The election results were widely seen as a message to politicians to back away from the harsh economic austerity measures imposed in Greece.
As Tsipras began coalition talks Tuesday, he said PASOK and New Democracy “don’t have a majority any more to vote for the plundering of the Greek people.”
A European Commission spokeswoman said this week that Greece needs time to work through its political process but reminded the country’s leaders that they would be expected to abide by the terms of a bailout program meant to avoid a crippling financial meltdown.
“The commission hopes and expects that the future government of Greece will respect the engagements that Greece has entered into,” spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told reporters.
New Democracy finished first in Sunday’s voting but ended up with only 108 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament.
Voters also delivered a rebuke to PASOK, stripping the party of 119 seats.
Together, the parties fell short of the 50% necessary to continue their coalition, requiring formation of a new government.
Last year, Greece’s debt threatened to force it to drop Europe’s common currency, the euro, prompting the European Central Bank and other lenders to swoop in with emergency funding. In exchange, they demanded that the government slash spending.
The resulting measures have led to tax increases and cuts in jobs, wages, pensions and benefits — and significant public outcry.
The national unemployment rate for January, the latest month for which figures are available, was nearly 22%, prompting widespread protests and leading some young people to leave the country in search of work.
Youth unemployment is even higher than the national average of one in five out of work.
For two years, the country’s massive amount of debt has threatened the stability of the eurozone.
Greece pushed through a huge debt swap in March to save it from disorderly default and clear the way for it to receive a second bailout from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, worth €130 billion ($171.5 billion).
The debt restructuring deal gave some breathing space to the eurozone bloc, where fears that Greece might collapse had increased pressure on other debt-laden nations such as Spain and Italy.