NEWS

Campaigning in Greece draws to close, election results in balance

MICHELE KAMBAS & GEORGE GEORGIOPOULOS

TAGS: Elections, Politics

Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday brushed off election polls suggesting his leftist SYRIZA party might lose to its conservative rival in Greece's election, saying he had a large group of supporters not reflected by pollsters.

He was speaking on the last day of formal campaigning for Sunday's general election with polls showing a cliffhanger vote expected and some pointing to a win by the conservative New Democracy party.

Neither party, however, is expected to get the proportion of the vote needed - roughly 38 percent - to gain a majority in the 300-seat parliament, meaning a coalition is a near certainty.

"There is a voting body that is below the radar, it is not being traced," Tsipras, who was to stage a final rally later in the day, told Greece's ANT 1 television.

Five opinion polls on Thursday and Friday underlined the tightness of Greece's election campaign, offering different outcomes but all pointing to no outright winner when ballots are cast.

The winner of Sunday's vote will need to oversee deep economic reforms required for an 86-billion-euro bailout brokered in August, a recapitalization of the country's banks, and the unwinding of capital controls imposed this year to prevent an implosion of the financial system.

All the polls showed the leftist SYRIZA party of former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and the conservative New Democracy of Vangelis Meimarakis within spitting distance of each other.

Of the five polls published on Thursday and Friday, two put SYRIZA ahead, two had New Democracy ahead, and one was a tie.

Given that Greece's compliance with the 86 billion euro bailout program is at issue, many at EU headquarters in Brussels and in other European capitals would like to see a broad coalition emerging from the election.

But SYRIZA and New Democracy, while both pledging to uphold the bailout terms, disagree on pivotal matters such as freeing up the labor market, collective bargaining and immigration.

SYRIZA, forced to concede the bailout in August with the threat of a disorderly exit from the euro zone looming over the country, has ruled out any pact with New Democracy. It regards that party as part of an old guard partly responsible for Greece's economic woes.

Tspiras pointed to what he sees as SYRIZA's success in getting the EU to consider ways of easing Greece's debt burden.

"We fought the battle until the end and won ground for the country ... because there will be a negotiation for debt reduction," he said.

EU sources have told Reuters that euro zone governments, Greece's biggest creditors, are ready to cap the country's debt servicing costs at 15 percent of GDP annually over the long-term as part of the promised debt relief to help the economy grow.

New Democracy has been keen to highlight perceived credibility issues under SYRIZA, which swept to power in January on the promise of ridding the country of bailouts, only to agree to new stringent austerity terms six months later.

"The question is clear. Should we listen to false promises and wishful thinking, or move forward responsibly and with a national plan?" New Democracy leader Vengelis Meimarakis told cheering supporters in a central Athens square.

"It's high time we did away with incompetence. The SYRIZA experiment ends on Sunday."

[Reuters]

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