Greece came one step closer to early elections on Thursday as the head of a breakaway left-wing party returned his mandate to form a government to the country's president after failing to find willing coalition partners.
Former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who formed the new Popular Unity party last week after splitting from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' radical-left Syriza party, returned the mandate Thursday afternoon after exhausting the three-day time limit despite it being clear there was no way he could have found partners to form a government.
Greece's president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, will now either convene a meeting of all party leaders in an almost certainly futile last bid to form a coalition government, or directly declare a caretaker government and announce the election date, which is expected to be 20 September.
The election comes just eight months after Tsipras won a January snap election on promises of repealing the stringent austerity measures Greece's previous governments had to impose in return for two international bailouts.
Tsipras resigned and called early elections last week after his coalition government lost its parliamentary majority due to a rebellion by Syriza hardliners furious at his signing of a third bailout for Greece that demands even harsher spending cuts and tax hikes than those he had vowed to abolish. The deal was approved with support from opposition parties.
The 41-year-old prime minister has argued he was left with no choice but to accept European creditors' demands, in order to avoid Greece defaulting on its debts and being forced out of the euro currency the country shares with another 18 European nations.
Suffering from a deep financial crisis, Greece has been unable to raise funds on the international borrowing market due to extremely high interest rates demanded for its bonds - a reflection of investor mistrust that the country can repay them.
It has relied on funds from two bailouts by other European countries and the International Monetary Fund, totaling nearly 240 billion euros, since 2010.
The second bailout expired earlier this year, and Tsipras insisted he could negotiate a better deal for his country. But the talks with creditors quickly floundered and eventually collapsed in June, with Tsipras calling a referendum and urging Greeks to vote against creditor demands.
They overwhelmingly did so, but the prime minister eventually signed up to even stricter demands, in return for a third rescue package, worth 86 billion euros over three years.
Despite his about-face on policies, Tsipras is expected to win the elections although it is unclear whether he will secure enough parliamentary seats to govern alone.
He has ruled out a coalition with any of the centrist opposition parties - centre-right New Democracy, the socialist Pasok party or the small centrist To Potami party.
"I think that all three parties essentially express the old political system," he said in an interview with private Alpha TV Wednesday evening.
Unless other smaller parties manage to enter Parliament in the upcoming election, that would leave his current coalition partner, the small nationalist Independent Greeks.
It is unlikely he would form a government with Popular Unity, formed by Syriza dissenters, Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, whose leader and lawmakers still face criminal charges, or the communist KKE party which has previously refused to join any coalition.