Two new opinion polls suggested yesterday that the ruling PASOK party was narrowing New Democracy’s lead in the runup to the March 7 elections, but officials of the conservative opposition party expressed confidence that this was about as close as the ruling party would get after the excitement of its leadership change had blown over. The polls showed that the prospect of change in PASOK, with Foreign Minister George Papandreou expected to take over as party leader in early February after Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s decision to step aside, had narrowed ND’s lead, had made fewer people expect an ND victory and suggested that more people preferred Papandreou to ND leader Costas Karamanlis as a candidate for prime minister. A poll by the Metron Analysis company published in Ta Nea yesterday said that if elections were held today, 40.1 percent would vote for ND, 37.6 percent for PASOK, 4.9 percent for the Communist Party, 2.2 percent for Synaspismos Left Coalition and 1 percent for the Democratic Socialist Movement (DIKKI). The previous poll by the same company, in September, had given ND a lead of 6.8 percent, compared to the present 2.5 percent. The nationwide poll, with balloting, was carried out among 1,416 people between Jan. 10-14. Interestingly, first-time voters picked PASOK by 44.9 percent compared to ND’s 22.9 percent. Also, 45 percent of voters said they believed ND would win, while 38.1 percent picked PASOK – whereas the difference was close to 30 percent before PASOK’s leadership change. Some 46.9 percent saw Papandreou as the best candidate for prime minister, over 41.7 percent for Karamanlis. Eleftherotypia’s poll was conducted by the Opinion company between Jan. 8-14 among 1,601 people. It found that 40 percent would vote for ND, 37 percent for PASOK, 4.9 percent for the Communist Party, 2.8 percent for Synaspismos, 1.6 percent for DIKKI and 1.7 percent for the far-right LAOS, while 11.9 percent of votes were still undetermined. The poll had an error margin of 2.4 percent, the newspaper said. The difference between ND and PASOK in September was 8 percent. Also, 45.7 percent picked Papandreou as best suited for prime minister, over 41.6 percent who chose Karamanlis. Regarding expectations of who would win, 45.6 percent said ND would, over 41.1 percent for PASOK. ND’s chief strategist, Giorgos Souflias, commented that support for ND was building up and he noted, «Despite the media-driven attempt to overturn the political scene, PASOK has not managed to persuade citizens that a change in leadership can also change a policy that has plagued the country for the past 20 years.» PASOK officials, however, spoke of a «total reversal,» adding that their party could win.