Opposition New Democracy enjoys a considerable popularity edge over the ruling Socialists, according to a recent opinion poll made public yesterday, which also appeared to confirm that Greece’s two largest parties will have negligible competition from smaller political formations in the next elections. The nationwide survey by MRB pollsters, conducted on behalf of the conservative main opposition party between February 13 and March 5, gave ND a 7.9 percent lead over PASOK. Some 39.6 percent of respondents said they would vote for ND, and 31.7 percent for the Socialists who have governed the country – with the exception a four-year interval from 1989-1993 – since 1981. The previous MRB poll, published in December, had given ND a 6.1 percent lead, at 38.5 percent. Commenting on the poll yesterday, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said it had failed to take into account «recent developments.» He insisted that PASOK «can win the 2004 elections with our work and our immediate response to citizens’ problems.» The Communist Party (KKE) came third with 5.2 percent, while Synaspismos Left Coalition was fourth with 3.5 percent. Populist DHKKI and ultra-conservative LAOS – PASOK and ND splinter parties – fell below the 3 percent parliamentary entry threshold at 2.1 and 1.9 percent, respectively. Asked which party they expected to win the next elections, 58.5 percent named ND and 36 percent PASOK. Even among PASOK voters, only 49.4 percent said they expected a Socialist victory. Only 1 percent of all respondents said they thought some other party would prevail. However, Prime Minister Costas Simitis still came across as marginally more popular that ND leader Costas Karamanlis, with 41.4 percent of respondents naming him as the man best qualified to rule Greece – compared to the opposition leader’s 40.7 percent.