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Stung by election defeat, Greek opposition forced to pass on chance to form government

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s opposition leader received — and summarily rejected — an invitation Tuesday to form the country’s next government, two days after a general election produced no majority in parliament and is widely expected to trigger a new vote next month.

Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party suffered a major defeat at the polls Sunday, but was next in line to receive the mandate and had already indicated he would be obliged to reject it.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right New Democracy won the election and swiftly ruled out the option of seeking a coalition. He would benefit, and likely gain outright victory, from a second vote that would introduce a change in the electoral system that favors the winning party.

The 55-year-old Mitsotakis won just over 40% of the vote Sunday, hammering his main opponent by 20 points. He promised to continue pro-business reforms, tough policies to combat illegal migration, and high defense spending as Greece recovers from a major financial crisis in the previous decade.

Under the constitution, the first three parties are awarded up to three days each to try and form a government before parliament is dissolved and a new election is called.

Tsipras, who was received Tuesday by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, now faces a challenge from the third-placed center-left Pasok party that once dominated Greek politics, but saw its popular support plummet during the financial crisis and a series of painful international bailouts.

“I have no reason to hide that the election result is a painful shock for us. Unexpected and painful,” Tsipras, a 48-year-old former prime minister, said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Tsipras said he wasn’t considering stepping down, but promised to fight on to try and curb the dominance of the conservatives.

“Imagine an all-powerful, unaccountable ruler-prime minister if these (current) results are repeated,” he told reporters outside the president’s official residence.

“In its first four years in power, this government demonstrated that it has no respect for the rule of law, democracy or political pluralism … so the big picture is the need to prevent having a murky, unaccountable, hegemonic and arrogant government.”

Derek Gatopoulos, The Associated Press