Greek PM urges lawmakers to avoid snap election

By Renee Maltezou
Premiê grego, Antonis Samaras, durante eleição presidencial no Parlamento. 23/12/2014 REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned lawmakers on Saturday against the snap election that will be called if he loses a key presidential vote in parliament next week, but said he was confident of winning if Greeks did go to the polls.

Recent opinion polls show Samaras' conservative New Democracy party is narrowing the gap with the left-wing Syriza party, which wants to renegotiate Greece's international bailout and roll back austerity measures, but still trails by around three points.

Speaking before Monday's decisive round in the election of a successor to head of state Karolos Papoulias, Samaras said a general election, which must be held if a new president cannot be appointed, was against the national interest.

"The Greek people do not want early elections," he told state television in an interview. "I have done and I am doing everything to ensure a president is elected and snap elections are averted," Samaras said.

Samaras repeated an invitation to other parties to cooperate in exchange for an agreement to hold elections late next year but offered few concrete details.

He dismissed Syriza's plan to renegotiate the multi-billion euro bailout agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund and roll back the austerity policies imposed under the program as a "joke", accusing it of "political blackmail".

His comment came on the same day German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that any Greek government would have to respect commitments already made by Athens.

Samaras' uncompromising tone suggests he is looking past Monday's vote towards an election campaign.

"If there are elections, we will win, I can feel it," he said. "I don't believe Greek people will accept being led back with easy promises to the edge of the cliff where they were two-and-a-half years ago."

"Even though elections would be convenient for me, I want to see the ship safely into port," he said.

Syriza dismissed his comments, accusing Samaras of being "obsessed with power".

An opinion poll on Saturday by the Alco polling institute showed Syriza leading over New Democracy by 3.3 points, a slightly narrower lead than in the previous poll. If elections were held now, Syriza would get 28.3 percent while Samaras' New Democracy would get 25 percent.

Another poll by Kapa Research put Syriza on 27.2 percent, 2.5 points ahead of New Democracy on 24.7 percent. It found 58 percent did not want elections now.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Stephen Powell)