Athens: Lawmakers from Wednesday will vote for a new Greek president in a ballot that will lead to snap general elections if they fail -- putting on the line years of efforts to turn around an economy in crisis.
The government brought forward the indirect election from February, when it will be locked in delicate negotiations with the cash-starved country`s creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
But the gamble to stave off uncertainty during those talks could backfire, given the government`s slender majority in the 300-seat parliament -- and the rise of the opposition radical leftist party Syriza, which wants to end an austerity drive and re-negotiate Greece`s bailout.
The administration headed by conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has little chance of mustering the 200 votes it needs in the first and second rounds to elect its candidate to the largely ceremonial post, former EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.
If no majority emerges for a name in the third or final round on December 29, when 180 MPs` votes are needed, early elections have to be called.
If that happens, Syriza is seen as the favourite.
Greece`s markets reacted badly to the early parliamentary poll, with the Athens stock market diving more than 20 percent over four trading sessions and no rebound since. On Tuesday, it closed down 0.26 percent.
The vote will be closely followed across Europe, where the fate of Greece, and its place in the eurozone, is not secure.
Thibault Mercier, an analyst at BNP Paribas, said however that Greece`s budgetary situation was better now then at the height of the Greek debt crisis in 2012.
The economy is forecast to grow at 2.9 percent next year, with a public deficit forecast at 0.2 percent of GDP (compared to 15 percent five years ago).
Also, "the contamination channel for the rest of the eurozone is currently greatly reduced", Mercier said.
On a visit to Athens on Tuesday ahead of the vote, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said: "Greece`s place is in Europe. That place is not threatened like it was in the past."
The EU and the IMF in 2010 and in 2012 extended loans to bailout Greece to the tune of 240 billion euros ($300 billion) in return for a commitment to severe austerity measures and ambitious reforms.
But Bank of Greece chief Yannis Stournaras warned Monday that "the crisis of the last few days is now taking on a serious dimension".
A change in government could lead to market volatility that could pose a "great danger of irreparable damage to the Greek economy", Stournaras said.