ATHENS The outcome of an election in Greece next month that may determine whether Athens can stay in the euro was thrown into doubt on Wednesday when a poll suggested the anti-bailout SYRIZA party would win, contradicting six previous forecasts.
The poll, by VPRC for Epikaira magazine, showed SYRIZA, a radical leftist party which says it wants the debt-laden country to remain in the euro but to ditch austerity, would win 30 percent of the vote if elections were held now.
The same poll put the pro-bailout conservative New Democracy party in second place with 26.5 percent of the vote. That was consistent with a previous VPRC forecast last week that also showed SYRIZA in the lead, with 28.5 percent, and New Democracy second with 26 percent.
If Wednesday's result were repeated in a parliamentary election on June 17, it would be almost impossible to form a government without the participation of SYRIZA.
SYRIZA's stated aim of jettisoning the international bailout deal and the tough austerity measures that went with it is a scenario that the country's international lenders have made clear is unacceptable, raising fears that Greece might be forced out of the single currency in chaotic fashion.
Opinion polls in Greece have been fickle in recent weeks, making it tough to call a close-run election that is seen as pivotal for Greece as well as for the wider euro zone, which would be unlikely to escape unscathed if Athens left the euro.
Six earlier polls published since Friday showed the pro-bailout New Democracy party ahead - by between 0.5 and 5.7 percentage points - leaving political analysts wary of predicting the final result.
Analysts have warned that the poll results should be treated cautiously because of the unprecedented volatility of voters' moods. Sea-changes in the country's political landscape, a fifth year of recession and record unemployment are stretching voters' party political loyalties to their limits, they say.
Greece was forced to call the June 17 vote after an election on May 6 left parliament divided between parties that support and oppose austerity measures tied to a 130-billion-euro bailout agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund in March.
EU leaders have warned Greece of the consequences of renouncing the bailout, saying they will pull the plug on funding - a move that would lead to rapid bankruptcy and an ignominious exit from the single currency.
Separately, the EU turned up pressure on Greece on Wednesday, saying that it must step up reforms to keep getting full bailout aid and that the date of the next EU/IMF inspection visit to Athens will depend on the outcome of the June 17 election.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn and Harry Papachristou; Editing by Tim Pearce)