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Samaras Makes Last Pitch to Voters

The head of Greece’s conservatives said Thursday his party aimed to win enough votes in Sunday’s election to govern alone with a “strong mandate,” despite opinion polls suggesting this will be a tall order.
“I want to govern along with a strong mandate in the name of political stability,” New Democrats leader Antonis Samaras told a rally of several hundred supporters waving blue and white Greek flags in central Athens.
“A coalition would not be in the interests of the Greek people, but only of PASOK, and that would condemn Greeks to stagnation,” he said, referring to the crisis-hit country’s main socialist party and New Democracy’s main rival.
Opinion polls suggest that New Democracy will be the biggest party after the election, but with much less support, forcing Samaras into a coalition or possibly to fresh elections. PASOK is also headed for a beating, with surveys suggesting that many voters are turning their backs on the two mainstream parties in favor of a number of smaller, fringe parties.
Samaras said Thursday that a vote for one of the smaller parties “would provide grist for PASOK’s mill by getting in the way of a strong mandate for New Democracy.”
Many of these parties, which range from hardline communists to neo-Nazis, want to tear up two bailout deals with the IMF and EU, which have saved Greece from bankruptcy but which have also demanded painful reforms in return. Samaras himself says the bailouts focus too much on debt and not enough on growth — a complaint echoing across Europe — and says he wants the IMF and EU to give Greece more slack, as does his PASOK opponent Evangelos Venizelos.
Since November the country has been run by an uneasy coalition of PASOK and New Democracy under technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who is stepping down.
Gross domestic product (GDP) is set to contract sharply for the fifth year running in 2012, more than one in five is unemployed and pensions and salaries have been slashed by up to 40 percent. The government forecasts a public deficit of 7 percent of output this year, and total debt of 145.5 percent, the highest in the eurozone despite wiping out a third of its debts in a controversial recent bond swap.
But economists at UBS bank said that the parties’ aim to get a less onerous deal “suggests a degree of liberty they do not have,” with little, if any, appetite at the IMF or EU for any renegotiation.
And the pain is not over. In June, Greece will attempt to find another 11.5 billion euros ($15.1 billion) in spending cuts by 2014. Athens also has to send someone to a meeting of eurozone finance ministers due on May 14. If the new government does not fulfill its obligations, UBS said, there is a “high risk” that the IMF and the EU will postpone the next bailout payment.
“This could generate considerable tension, with the Greek government quickly running out of cash and being forced to stop paying salaries and pensions. Social turmoil would almost certainly follow,” the bank warned. “Even a temporary suspension of official sector financing could therefore be very damaging to European markets.”
“It’s the first time in my career [of 18 years] that I don’t dare to believe the polls really,” Spiros Rizopoulos, head of the Athens-based public relations company Spin Communications, told AFP. “God knows where we are going to be on Sunday.”
(source: AFP, AP)

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