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Greek election too close to call with 48 hours to go

Alexis Tsipras SyrizaGreece’s election campaign winds up Friday in a dead heat with 48 hours to go and all bets off on whether young radical ex-premier Alexis Tsipras will triumph again or be punished for tying the country to painful economic reforms.

With his Syriza party still reeling from an insider anti-austerity revolt that toppled his government in August, Tsipras could be upstaged by his conservative rivals in the New Democracy party, who promise a return to stability after months of economic upheaval.

Both conservative leader Vangelis Meimarakis and Tsipras have pledged to stick to the tough reforms demanded by cash-strapped Greece’s international creditors in July, meaning that economic policy going forwards is largely set in stone for whoever wins the September 20 vote.

So with divisions blurred by the cash-for-reform deal and polls showing a sizeable section of the electorate – around 10 percent – remains undecided, the race is simply too close to call.

“It’s the first time I’ve felt so powerlesss to make an estimate. The entire political scene is like a boiling cauldron,” Paschos Mandravelis, a columnist for liberal daily Kathimerini, told AFP.

Tsipras has a final chance to steal a march later Friday with a closing rally in central Athens, where he will be joined by Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain’s anti-establishment Podemos party.

The leftists are accused of brinkmanship in negotiations with EU creditors that prompted the European Central Bank to hold back support for Greek banks, forcing Athens to impose capital controls that are still keenly felt in the economy.

But in a flurry of interviews, the 41-year-old former premier has defended his decision to put the country above his party, which was split asunder in July when he agreed to a three-year bailout entailing new tax hikes and income cuts.

Had he refused to sign, he argues, Greece would likely have been ejected from the eurozone.

– ‘Tug the rope’ on debt –

On Friday, he told Antenna TV that he would “tug the rope” in order to secure relief on Greece’s huge national debt from EU creditors in the coming months.

“The timing is probably more positive for Greek claims, Europe is tired of having the Greek crisis constantly returning to the agenda,” Tsipras said in another interview with Ta Nea daily.

“The programme we have agreed is open on many points, it’s up to us to fine-tune it in a way that protects the social majority,” he said.

Tsipras called the vote to try to win an outright majority in parliament after the split by anti-euro hardliners in his Syriza party.

European officials welcomed the move when it was announced in August, preferring a snap ballot to having a minority Tsipras government trying to implement unpopular reforms.

Provided a stable government is formed, analysts say the implementation of the bailout is not in doubt in the short-term but that problems will likely emerge later.

“The real risks lie farther away – Grexit is not off the table,” said Nordea financial analyst Jan von Gerich, referring to the prospect of Greece being forced out of the euro.

“Bad economic performance could easily increase the anti-bailout sentiment, and at the same time make it harder for the next government to continue to implement the bailout.

“The recent history of the willingness of Greece to implement its programmes heavily suggests it will not meet the new conditions either, at which time the Grexit issue will return,” von Gerich said.

In most polls, the margin between Syriza and New Democracy is under 2.0 percent, well below the margin for statistical error.

Tsipras has rejected repeated calls by Meimarakis to work together in a unity government, but has hinted he could work with the socialist Pasok party, which has a shot at finishing third.

The socialists are hoping to catch up with neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which ranked third at around six percent in the last general vote and in European parliament elections.

But the shock arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from war landing on Greece’s doorstep this year could bolster the far-right group, whose leadership is on trial over the murder of an anti-fascist rapper two years ago.

“Golden Dawn is showing noteworthy stability,” Yiorgos Arapoglou of polling company Pulse told Athens 9.84 radio.

“However, Pasok is demonstrating a slow but steady rise, and there is a chance” they could outstrip the neo-Nazis, he said.



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