* Support for ruling conservatives edges higher - poll
* Parliament to vote Sunday on controversial reform package
* Athens needs to pass law to obtain further bailout funds
(Recasts with opinion poll, adds Prime Minister)
By Angeliki Koutantou and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, March 29 The main party in Greece's
ruling coalition, conservative New Democracy, has nudged ahead
of the leftist opposition for the first time in six months, an
opinion poll showed on Saturday, ahead of a key parliamentary
vote on more tough reforms.
The poll will be welcome news for Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras' fragile government, whose cohesion has been tested by
the controversial reforms demanded by international lenders as a
condition to keep debt-laden Greece afloat.
The poll, conducted on March 24-27 by Alco for weekly
newspaper Proto Thema, showed Samaras' New Democracy winning
21.7 percent of the vote if elections were held today, against
21.2 percent for the main opposition, anti-bailout Syriza party.
In Alco's previous poll on March 11-13, Syriza led New
Democracy by 21.2 to 20 percent, a lead similar to that in all
other polls tracked by Reuters in recent months.
Alco's is the first major poll conducted since Samaras
promised this month to spend a 527 million-euro windfall out of
Greece's 2013 budget surplus on poor, austerity-hit Greeks,
saying this was a first sign of the country gradually exiting
the painful budget cuts imposed by lenders.
The spending package is wrapped in a 225-page reform law to
be voted late on Sunday. The law has caused friction within the
government for removing protectionist measures shielding several
professions such as milk producers, publishers and pharmacists.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Maximos Charakopoulos resigned
his post on Saturday to protest against the draft law, saying it
would hurt farmers by encouraging imports of cheap foreign milk.
However, Charakopoulos suggested he would not vote against
the bill to avoid derailing the country's bailout.
"At this point, my political ethics do not allow me to put
the country's smooth financing at risk," he said in a statement.
New Democracy and its coalition partner, the Socialist PASOK
party, have 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament. Two
pro-government lawmakers have threatened to vote against the
law. But Samaras may be able to pass it with as few as 148 votes
because six lawmakers of the far-right Golden Dawn party are in
jail awaiting trial and cannot take part in votes.
The law includes all new reform measures Athens agreed
earlier this month with the European Union and the International
Monetary Fund after more than six months of tough negotiations.
Greece must pass the law to qualify for further bailout
funds and repay 9.3 billion euros of debt maturing in May.
Eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to review Greece's
reform progress when they meet in Athens on Tuesday. Samaras
expects lenders to disburse the funds and then start talks soon
on how to provide further debt relief for Greece, which last
year outperformed the fiscal goals set by its lenders.
"We have kept our promises, so our lenders will keep
theirs," he was quoted as saying on Saturday in an interview
with newspaper Realnews. "I believe that the (debt relief) issue
will be settled by the fall," he added.
The draft bill allows Greece's bank bailout fund HFSF more
flexibility and legal cover to sell bank stakes it holds to
private investors. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras threatened on
Friday to sue government officials who will use provisions of
the law to sell its bank stakes.
The bill also includes anti-corruption clauses, including
15,000-150,000 euro fines on prime ministers, cabinet ministers
and lawmakers caught red-handed.
Greek labour unions have called rallies outside parliament
on Sunday to protest against the draft law. Pharmacists have
been on strike since Wednesday and seamen said they would walk
off the job on Monday and Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Gareth