Greek pro-bailout ND party leads leftists in polls
www.reuters.com, 31st May 2012 07:52
(Reuters) - Greece's pro-bailout New Democracy party is ahead of the SYRIZA leftist party in the run-up to a June 17 parliamentary election that may decide whether the debt-laden country remains in the euro, four polls showed on Thursday.
The forecasts, among the last before a ban on polling enters into force on Saturday, gave the conservative New Democracy party (ND) a lead of between 1.6 and 2.8 percentage points over SYRIZA, the anti-bailout party.
The outcome of next month's election - which has potentially far-reaching ramifications for the future of the wider euro zone as well - remains finely balanced, as different polls in recent days have produced contradictory results.
SYRIZA says it wants Greece to stay in the euro but to ditch the 130-billion-euro international rescue package along with tough austerity measures prescribed by the European Union and other lenders to help dig Athens out of its debt hole.
Alexis Tsipras, its firebrand leader, on Thursday reiterated his belief that Greece needed to cancel the bailout and renegotiate a new plan with less harsh austerity measures.
An exit from the euro and a return to the drachma was not an option, he added forcefully.
"There is no danger of us leaving the euro zone. We need to cancel the bailout which has led to catastrophe," he said in an interview with the enikos.gr website. "We will replace it with a national plan to resurrect the economy."
"If it were so easy to throw us out like a rotten foot with gangrene, why haven't they done it in the last two years?," he asked. "The problem is European."
Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, had earlier told his supporters that any move to reject the rescue package would plunge Greece into a nightmare that it could not control.
"It will be a real nightmare," he said. "Those who talk of denouncing the bailout are like little children playing with matches in a gunpowder warehouse and they are driving us towards an isolated Greece.
Three polls released on Wednesday showed the two parties neck-and-neck or very close, one putting SYRIZA in the lead.
In its fifth year of recession faced with record unemployment, dwindling cash reserves and a population in shock, there was more bad news for Greece's banking sector on Thursday.
Greece's second and third-largest lenders Eurobank and Alpha reported serious losses for the first quarter as the slump caused a rise in non-performing loans, hit income and increased funding costs. Both banks' deposit bases shrunk too.
The contradictory nature of opinion polls has left political analysts wary of predicting the result in what is shaping up to be a gripping, close-run election.
Costas Panagopoulos, head of the ALCO pollster, told Reuters that although the majority of polls in recent days had given ND a narrow lead over SYRIZA, the gap separating the two was roughly equal to the margin of statistical error.
"Polls have statistical limits," he said. "Statistical error means polls can have different parties leading."
The uncertainty is unsettling markets and politicians who fear that a win by SYRIZA would force Greece out of the single currency, possibly in a chaotic fashion.
Concern is growing about the level of debt in other euro zone countries such as Spain and Portugal too, and some European policy makers fear a disorderly "Grexit" could trigger a domino effect, sapping confidence in the single currency at a time when the euro zone is struggling to defend its credibility.
Greece was forced to call the June 17 vote after an election on May 6 left parliament divided evenly between groups of parties that support and oppose austerity conditions attached to the rescue package agreed with lenders in March.
A sea-change in the political landscape and a fifth year of recession and record unemployment are stretching voters' party loyalties to their limits, suggesting many Greeks are changing their minds almost daily about who to vote for, pollsters say.
EU leaders have warned Greece of the consequences of renouncing the bailout conditions and threatened to pull the plug on new funding - a move that would lead to Athens' rapid bankruptcy and an ignominious exit from the single currency.