Two weeks before the municipal and regional elections, a national opinion poll published yesterday showed the conservative New Democracy party enjoying a comfortable 7.2-percent lead over ruling PASOK if parliamentary elections were to be held now. The two parties traded verbal blows over the credibility of the poll conducted by MRB at the request of New Democracy. It gave the conservatives 37.2 percent and PASOK 30 percent, followed by the Communist Party with 5.5 percent, the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) with 3.3 percent and the Social Democratic Movement (DIKKI) with 2.2 percent. The poll was conducted from September 16-25 and had a margin of error of 2.01 percent for PASOK and 2.12 percent for ND. It was the first poll since the summer during which the authorities managed to arrest many members of the November 17 terrorist gang. An earlier poll by the same company, in June 14-26, indicated that ND had increased a growing lead over PASOK to 9.4 percentage points, up from 6.6 percent in a poll by MRB in December. Although ND retains a comfortable lead, the war on terrorism appears to have helped the government somewhat. The latest poll also found that 40.9 percent of respondents thought ND leader Costas Karamanlis was better suited to be prime minister, ahead of PM Costas Simitis with 38 percent. In June, MRB found Karamanlis had pulled ahead of Simitis for the first time and was enjoying a lead of 3.5 percent. Another interesting finding was that 57.8 percent believed ND will win the next elections, as opposed to 28.3 percent who thought PASOK would. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas noted that MRB had also been commissioned by ND to run its election campaign. «These communications tricks of questionable credibility have no significance,» he said. New Democracy spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos responded that PASOK had ties with two other polling companies that had shown provincial results in its favor. «The government is alarmed because the findings of this poll, as well as all others in the past two years, are against it,» he said.