Athens: Greece's radical-left Syriza party is neck-and-neck with its conservative rivals two weeks ahead of snap elections, opinion polls showed today, with an absolute majority for any party looking increasingly unlikely.
In a marked change from several weeks ago when charismatic Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras was by far Greece's most popular politician, the polls published by the To Vima and Ethnos newspapers also indicate a rise in popularity for Vangelis Meimarakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party.
Tsipras quit as prime minister on August 20, triggering the early elections, after suffering a major rebellion amongst his lawmakers over Greece's huge new international bailout.
Both surveys showed Syriza maintaining a razor-thin lead ahead of the vote on September 20, with To Vima placing the leftists on 26.5 per cent against 25.9 per cent for New Democracy. Ethnos' poll suggested 24.4 per cent of Greeks intend to vote for Syriza, and 24 per cent for the conservatives.
To Vima's poll also showed Meimarakis pulling ahead in the personal rankings, with 44.8 per cent against 44 per cent for Tsipras. Ethnos, however, still had Tsipras ahead on 45.8 per cent against 44.3 per cent.
In an interview with the Real News weekly today, Meimarakis repeated his call for the two parties to form a coalition, an idea Tsipras has rejected.
Meimarakis, a 61-year-old career politician who took over the party reins in July, also said he wanted to "improve" the terms of Greece's new USD 96 billion bailout.
Syriza came to power in January on a wave of popular anger against sweeping austerity measures demanded by Athens' creditors in exchange for two previous rescue packages.
Several dozen Syriza lawmakers refused to back Tsipras on the new rescue deal, which requires Greece to implement more tax rises, spending cuts and privatisations, and have quit to form a new anti-bailout grouping, Popular Unity.
Analysts say Meimarakis is helped by his profile as an accommodating centrist, an image he refined as parliament speaker from 2012 to 2014. A veteran of New Democracy, he joined the party's youth movement in 1974 and served as defence minister from 2006 until 2009.
He told Real News he was seeking "broad cooperation amongst political forces on the European front", saying this "obviously" included Syriza.
He cited "stabilisation of the economy" and securing Greece's place in the eurozone as his priorities, while adding that "many points" of the bailout deal "could be improved".
Both of today's polls show ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn as Greece's third most popular party, although it is trailing far behind the two main contenders with somewhere between 5.9 per cent and 6.5 per cent of the vote.