December 16, 2014 / 11:31 AM / in 3 years

Greek PM Samaras asks for support as key vote nears

ATHENS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Antonis Samaras begged the Greek parliament on Tuesday not to throw away sacrifices made to keep the country solvent, a day before deputies begin a vote that could force a snap election and reignite financial crisis.

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (L) welcomes European Commissioner for economics, taxation and customs Pierre Moscovici at his office in Athens December 15, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The remarks follow warnings by European and Greek officials of dire consequences if Samaras loses the vote to elect a new president, prompting early elections by February that could topple his coalition government.

“Greeks demand that we fight united, to safeguard everything we achieved with bloody sacrifices in the last few years, and lead them safely to finally exit the crisis,” Samaras said in a statement.

The left-wing Syriza party, which wants to scrap the unpopular bailout package run by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, has accused both the Commission and Samaras of scare-mongering.

Syriza is ahead in the opinion polls but its lead has narrowed as the vote nears and brings closer the prospect of a showdown with the country’s creditors.

Greece has begun to turn the corner after six years of recession and has resumed some borrowing on financial markets but with its economy crushed by the crisis, it still needs the support of European partners to cover all its funding needs.

As tactical maneuvering continued ahead of voting on Wednesday, several independent deputies, whose support will be crucial, refused to commit to supporting the government but said they would make a decision later.

Samaras has 155 deputies in the 300-member parliament and needs to secure the backing of at least 25 independents to secure the super-majority he needs to win the vote, which takes place in three separate rounds, ending on Dec. 29.

With voting intentions still uncertain, the result could turn on the decisions of a handful of seven or eight parliamentarians from the smaller parties.

The uncertainty has revived memories of the euro zone debt crisis. Financial markets, on edge over an array of threats ranging from the turbulence in Russia to ultra-low inflation, have sold off Greek stocks and bonds heavily in recent days.

The Bank of Greece raised its 2014 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast to 0.7 percent but said a return to steady growth was only possible if political parties cooperated.

Wednesday’s vote, which will be followed by a second round on Dec. 23, is not expected to produce a result but will be closely watched for signs of how many independents the government may be able to win over.

Samaras’ spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi said the government was only concerned by the final result and was not looking at any interim targets, though other ruling party officials have suggested any result short of 160 votes would be seen as a setback.

European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici avoided commenting on the political standoff during a visit to Athens but praised “impressive” strides made by the government.

“Greek people have suffered enough in the past four years. Now that their efforts are starting to pay off it is time to move on to the next phase,” he said.

Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou; editing by James Mackenzie

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