Scandals, slowdown cut Greek govt's popularity
ATHENS, Sept 9
ATHENS, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Greece's conservative government, hurt by a series of scandals and unpopular measures to tackle an economic slowdown, is now neck-and-neck with the opposition Socialists, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.
The poll, conducted after Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis's main annual news conference in northern Greece this weekend, showed he failed to win over most Greeks, upset by the economy and the scandals.
"Last spring, the difference was more than five percentage points in the government's favour," said Stratos Fanaras, CEO of the Metron Analysis, which conducted the Sept. 7-8 survey.
"Its popularity is declining due to the handling of the financial crisis and the image of its politicians, both in terms of scandals and internal conflicts."
The survey of 1,003 people showed that 27.9 percent of voters backed the ruling New Democracy party, only fractionally ahead of the left-leaning PASOK party on 27.6 percent -- the slimmest margin between the two since the conservatives came to power in 2004. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
Two-thirds of those polled reacted negatively to Karamanlis's speech, which came days after the government unveiled new taxes to shore up a budgetary shortfall this year.
New Democracy won re-election a year ago with 41.8 percent of the vote on a ticket to tackle corruption and modernise the economy, despite criticism of its handling of devastating summer wildfires which left 65 people dead.
Karamanlis, whose government has a slender two-seat majority in parliament, on Sunday ruled out calling early elections despite public frustration and rebellious conservative deputies threatening his parliamentary majority.
The government was briefly cut to 151 deputies in the 300-seat house earlier this year when one MP left its ranks during an investigation linked to a sex scandal involving former Culture Ministry Secretary General Christos Zachopoulos.
Both the government and PASOK are already involved in a major judicial probe of alleged bribes paid by German engineering giant Siemens dating back to the 1990s.
In recent weeks, a rebel government legislator has also criticised real estate dealings by Merchant Marine Minister Georgios Voulgarakis, who has denied breaking any laws.
Sixty-two percent of those polled said Karamanlis was wrong to support his minister, while only 26 percent viewed it favourably, Metron said.
(Editing by Robert Hart)
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