ATHENS -- Greece's radical leftist Syriza party and the country's conservative New Democracy party are jockeying for first place ahead of next month's elections, with two opinion polls Friday showing each commanding a narrow lead over the other and a third showing them in a statistical dead heat.
According to a survey of voter intentions for the Metro weekend newspaper, New Democracy held a narrow 2.2-percentage-point lead over Syriza, with New Democracy garnering 23.6% of the vote versus 21.4% for Syriza. The poll, conducted by the Rass polling agency, also showed that 13.1% of voters were still undecided.
A second poll by the VPRC polling agency for the tvxs.gr website showed Syriza with 28.5% of the vote--after adjusting the figures to exclude undecided voters--against 26.0% for New Democracy.
Meanwhile, a third poll by the Metron polling agency for the privately owned ANT1 television channel showed the two parties statistically even with support for Syriza at 27.2% of the vote against 27.0% for New Democracy. That poll was also adjusted to strip out the effects of undecided voters.
Greece is headed for fresh elections June 17, after an inconclusive vote earlier this month left the country without a stable government. The elections next month are being viewed as a de facto referendum on Greece's future inside the euro zone, pitting Syriza against New Democracy and the Socialist Pasok party, who together support the reform program Greece has pledged its European and international creditors in exchange for a recent EUR130 billion ($162.9 billion) bailout.
In the May 6 elections, Syriza--which opposes the austerity program tied to the bailout--catapulted from a small fringe party with about 5% of the vote into a surprise second-place finish. Its popularity has grown since then, and is now vying for first place.
Other recent opinion polls released last weekend showed Syriza neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy party, indicating that the race still remains wide open.
Under Greece's electoral law, the party with the most votes receives 50 bonus seats in the country's 300 member parliament, making a first-place finish key in forming any future coalition government.
If New Democracy wins, it would likely form a coalition with Pasok--which is drawing between 12.5% and 14.8% support, depending on the poll--that would give them a majority in parliament. But it remains unclear whether Syriza would secure enough seats from allied parties to do so as well.
By Alkman Granitsas, Dow Jones Newswires; +30 210 373 1774; firstname.lastname@example.org