ATHENS – Greeks are voting in a snap election on Sunday with the opposition socialists vowing to force Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis out of power and drag the economy away from recession.
Final opinion polls put George Papandreou’s socialist PASOK party between five and seven percentage points ahead of the ruling New Democracy party going into the election.
“I am certain that together we will change Greece,” Papandreou, who was greeted by dozens of supporters, said after casting his vote in Athens.
“We want to do it, we can do it, and we will achieve it,” added Papandreou, a former foreign minister and son of late prime minister Andreas Papandreou.
Karamanlis also said his party would win. “I have complete confidence in citizens’ maturity,” Karamanlis said after voting in his home city of Thessaloniki.
New Democracy, which called the election halfway through a four year term, has been stung by corruption scandals but the economy has taken centre stage in the election campaign.
Buoyed for years by annual growth of about four percent, partly attributed to EU funds, Greece is now on the brink of recession with output growth at near zero.
Greece’s public debt, one of the highest in the eurozone, is set to exceed 100 percent of gross domestic product this year, and the European Union placed the country under supervision in April over its excessive budget deficit.
Karamanlis, 53, has promised a two-year austerity policy coupled with a crackdown on tax evasion.
Papandreou, 57, proposes to invigorate the economy with salary and pension hikes above the rate of inflation in 2010.
He has announced a 100-day plan to boost the market, create jobs and clean up public finances.
“Massive sums are being lost (to corruption),” Papandreou told AFP in an interview.
Under the current electoral law the socialists will need to win between 40 and 42 percent of the vote for a workable majority in parliament. Many analysts say PASOK is assured of victory. The Karamanlis government currently has a one seat majority in parliament.
Interior Minister Spyros Flogaitis said only minor incidents had been reported in the election.
In one a vote supervisor in Evrytania, central Greece was delayed for three hours by a rockslide and a 47-year-old man in the same area was arrested after insisting to rescind his vote, state television NET said.
PASOK must keep its voters from flocking to the fledgling Green party, which gained visibility after fires which killed 77 people in 2007 and scorched Athens’ eastern flank this summer.
The level of support for the Greens, who need three percent of the vote to enter parliament, could doom PASOK’s aim of forming a government on its own.
“The undecided vote is around 10-15 percent,” noted Thomas Gerakis, head of Marc polling institute.
“These voters could well turn to the smaller parties if the perception is that PASOK is going to win an outright majority.”
Karamanlis’ party must guard against defections to the nationalist Laos party, which has capitalised on immigration fears and a surge of youth violence after the fatal shooting of a teenager by police in December.
Greece’s 9.8 million registered voters have until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) to cast ballots.
Exit polls are expected to be released shortly after the polls close and a projection based on a 20-percent vote sample is expected three hours later.