| ATHENS, Sept 9
ATHENS, Sept 9 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)