Greek opposition conservatives nudge ahead of Syriza: poll

Leader of Greek conservative opposition New Democracy party Vangelis Meimarakis makes a victory sign to his supporters after delivering a speech in Athens, on September 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/Michalis Karagiannis)
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Athens (AFP) - Eighteen days ahead of snap elections, Greece's conservative opposition New Democracy party has for the first time taken a slender lead over the ruling left-wing Syriza, an opinion poll showed Wednesday.

New Democracy has 25.3 percent support among voters just ahead of the Syriza party of charismatic ex-premier Alexis Tsipras, according to the poll carried out for the Mega TV channel.

Tsipras quit on August 20 -- triggering the early parliamentary elections -- after his decision to sign Greece up for a third huge international bailout sparked a major rebellion within his own party, leaving him barely able to govern.

Syriza had stormed to power in January promising an end to the steep spending cuts and tax rises demanded by Athens' creditors in exchange for two previous bailouts.

Tsipras himself remains a popular political leader, with 41.9 percent of support but New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis now tops him with 44.3 percent, according to the new poll.

The third most popular party is the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn, according to the poll, though it trails far behind the two main contenders with just 5.5 percent support.

A group of Syriza dissidents, unhappy with their party's handling of the crisis, recently set up their own Popular Unity group, named after the alliance that brought Chile's Salvador Allende to power in 1970, are currently coming fourth with four percent of support.

Syriza's eight months in power have been far from easy, with banks forced to shut to avert a catastrophic bank run, and Greeks struggling under capital controls, including limits on withdrawals from ATMs.

And it remains to be seen how much of an impact the Syriza rebels -- at least 25 of whom have split off to form Popular Unity -- could have on the vote.

Their leader is Panagiotis Lafazanis, a former communist who believes Greece could happily exist outside the euro.

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