Ahead of the snap elections scheduled in Greece next month, polls showed the lead for Alexis Tsipras' leftist Syriza party slipping. The former Greek premier urged his supporters on Saturday to give him a mandate to complete the country's political transformation.
Tsipras abruptly resigned last week, days after clinching an €86 billion ($97 billion) bailout package from Greece's eurozone and International Monetary Fund lenders, aiming to crush a rebellion by far-left lawmakers and tighten his grip on power.
Hopes the lenders might soon resolve differences over how to tackle Greece's existing debt rose on Saturday, when IMF head Christine Lagarde told a Swiss newspaper a form of restructuring rather than outright forgiveness should enable the country to cope. Eurozone creditors, notably Germany, have ruled out a writedown
But Tsipras' gamble to call early elections, to be held on September 20, could backfire, opinion polls suggest - with most Greeks disapproving of his decision to seek a fresh mandate and how he handled the talks with creditors.
Syriza led the opposition conservative New Democracy party by as much as 15.2 percentage points in May. But the gap has been gradually whittled down since and it dropped to 1.8 percentage points in an MRB poll for weekly newspaper Agora published on Saturday.
Other polls also showed the lead narrowing, suggesting momentum may be shifting towards New Democracy.
More battles ahead
Tsipras said he wanted to complete what he started when Syriza won national elections in January.
"Against us is the old political system that pushed the country into a tragedy, which built the regime that led to the bailouts," he told a gathering of the party's central committee in Athens. "We want to demolish this regime."
He urged supporters to fight back against the old and "hated" political system he held responsible for Greece having needed bailouts, and justified his decision to agree to a third rescue.
"We do not regret having fought nor having chosen at the end to avoid catastrophe," he said.
"Whoever wants to escape has the right to do it but we are moving forward, we have not seen our best battles yet," he said in a reference to a breakaway Syriza faction that has formed the anti-bailout Popular Unity party.
The MRB poll showed Popular Unity was backed by 4.2% - above the 3% threshold needed to enter parliament -while Syriza was on 24.6% and New Democracy on 22.8%.
It also supported previous findings that Tspiras's abrupt resignation as prime minister last week had gone down badly with voters, with 68.6% disapproving of that decision.
All the recent surveys suggest Syriza has next to no chance of winning an overall majority, and the right-wing Independent Greeks, the ally in Tsipras' former coalition government, look unlikely to make it back into parliament.
Tsipras this week however ruled out cooperating with the main pro-euro opposition parties - New Democracy, the Socialist PASOK and the centrist To Potami.
If Syriza is returned as the biggest party and Tsipras does not change his view, that points to a second round of elections.
The MRB poll, based on a sample of 1,008 participants countrywide between Aug. 25-27, showed that 75.4% of Greeks believe the country must stay in the euro, though nearly 73% also had a negative view of the new rescue package negotiated by Tsipras.