Challenged by anti-bailout opposition, mainstream parties seek to galvanize support

Talk of reform and rebirth by Greece's two big political parties is becoming more common, as polls suggest voters are drifting away from the mainstream formations towards smaller, anti-bailout parties on the left and right of the political spectrum. New Democracy on Friday took back five MPs who were expelled after voting against Greece's loan deal with creditors. Manolis Kefalogiannis (Iraklio), Alexandros Dermetzopoulos (Evros), Anastasios Karypidis (Serres), Theofilos Leondaridis (Serres) and Zisis Tzikalagias (Kastoria) have been reinstated according to a letter sent by conservative leader Antonis Samaras to parliament speaker Filippos Petsalnikos. On Thursday, prospective PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos drew battle lines ahead of the next general election pencilled in for late April or early May. His news conference came a few days after Samaras's own address at his party's political committee -- essentially a speech launching his campaign to be prime minister.

Also on Thursday, a nationwide survey conducted by Skai television and Kathimerini showed that public support for PASOK and ND, the two parties involved in the unity coalition government under technocrat Lucas Papademos, has declined further. The Public Issue poll released Thursday found that support for the two parties has dropped to 36 percent of the vote. The rise of Independent Greeks, an anti-memorandum party founded recently by former conservative rebel Panos Kammenos, appears to have taken a hefty toll on ND whose ratings have slipped to 25 percent.

Just 11 percent said they would vote for PASOK which is set for a leadership election this Sunday. Venizelos, who was beaten by former Prime Minister George Papandreou in the previous inner-party contest in 2007, is the sole candidate for the post. The same survey found that seven other parties would clear the three percent threshold for winning parliament seats – most likely necessitating the formation of a multiparty government. The culture of political cooperation is all but absent in Greece where ruling power has, since the end of the military dictatorship in the early 1970s, mostly alternated between the socialist and conservative parties. Democratic Left was the second most popular party with 15.5 percent, according to the poll, followed by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) on 12 percent and the Communist Party (KKE) on 11.5 percent.

The Ecologist Greens received 3.5 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Independent Greeks garnered 6.5 percent, former coalition member Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) remained on 4 percent, while support for the neo-fascist Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) fell slightly to 3 percent. A different poll published earlier Thursday in the weekly To Pontiki newspaper suggested that ND would gather 17 percent of the vote while giving PASOK a mere 10 percent. The new government is expected to fulfill the obligations under the nation's new bailout loan signed with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. The IMF on Thursday approved a 28 billion euro bailout for Greece, part of a broader international rescue package for the debt-strapped nation. The Washington-based organization said it would immediately disburse 1.65 billion euros to Athens.

During the press conference at PASOK's headquarters on Thursday, Venizelos lambasted critics of the country's new bailout accusing them of “hypocrisy, demagoguery, populism and irresponsibility.” Sitting in front of a white backdrop with a single green line running through it and a slogan that read “We Begin,” Venizelos did not miss a chance to make a thinly-disguised attack on the newly formed Social Pact, launched by former PASOK member and Economy Minister Louka Katseli, attacking those who “did not respect the unity” of the Socialist party. 

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