June 6, 2015 / 1:05 PM / 3 years ago

Greek officials play down snap election option in debt stand off

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek government officials on Saturday played down the possibility of early elections to break an impasse with the country’s creditors the day after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras dismissed the lenders’ latest cash-for-reforms offer.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on during a parliamentary session for the briefing of lawmakers over the ongoing talks with the country's lenders, in Athens, Greece June 5, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Some hard-liners in the ruling Syriza party, including a deputy minister, had suggested during the week that new elections would be needed to secure public legitimacy for difficult decisions needed to obtain aid.

But Tsipras made no mention of this option in a defiant speech to parliament on Friday. He focused instead on attacking the terms of the aid plan offered by euro zone and International Monetary Fund creditors.

On Saturday, two ministers said they saw no case for elections and an opinion poll showed Greeks have little appetite for a return to the polls just five months after Tsipras won power on a radical leftist agenda to end austerity.

Tsipras is under huge pressure to seal a deal with lenders before his cash-strapped government runs out of money, defaults on its debt and is possibly forced to leave the euro zone. But he must also placate hard-liners in his party who are outraged by the austerity measures being demanded in return for aid.

“There is no reason for elections”, Health Minister Papagiotis Kouroublis said in television interview on Saturday.

“I strongly believe there will be a deal”, he added. That echoed comments the night before by Tsipras, who balanced indignation at the creditors’ terms with optimism that a deal was “closer than ever before” - but on Greece’s terms.

Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who is from Syriza’s hard left but is close to Tsipras, also appeared to dismiss talk of elections, telling weekly newspaper “Agora” the government already has a full mandate to implement its program.

The lenders’ latest proposal crosses many of Tsipras’s ‘red lines,’ including hiking taxes, privatizing strategic assets and cutting benefits for poor pensioners.

Tsipras instead is calling on lenders to accept a Greek plan that would reverse tough labor and pension reforms. This, he says, is the only “realistic” proposal on the table.

An opinion poll published on Saturday showed only 35 percent of Greeks want the government to refuse to compromise with lenders, while 47 percent want it to reach a deal even if it means making concessions.

The poll by Metron Analysis for weekly newspaper Parapolitica showed 73 percent of Greeks saw no need for new elections to approve an eventual accord with creditors, compared with 22 percent who said a popular vote was necessary.

The survey showed 79 percent want to remain in the euro zone, confirming the message of previous poll findings.

Greece’s bailout expires at the end of June and default would beckon then, but for now Tsipras and his ministers continue to talk tough, saying it is the lenders who are unwilling to compromise.

“No-one among the creditors can take the responsibility for a clash with unpredictable consequences”, Health Minister Kouroublis said. “It is not only a Greek problem but a European problem”.

editing by Gavin Jones/Jeremy Gaunt

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