Greek coalition government set to call election

DEREK GATOPOULOS
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The Greek Parliament is seen behind crowd barriers in Athens, Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who has headed an interim coalition government since November, will meet President Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday and is expected to announce the precise date of national elections expected early next month. Parliament activities are scheduled to be suspended Wednesday for the Easter holiday. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is to meet with the crisis-hit country's president Wednesday to request an early general election.

Papademos has scheduled a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias at 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) to formally request elections, 18 months before parliament's current term expires.

Ahead of the widely anticipated announcement, several government officials said this week that the election will be held on May 6 — 18 months before the parliament's four-year term expires.

Papademos, a 64-year-old former vice president of the European Central Bank, was appointed prime minister in November and spent the following five months pushing through harsh austerity measures in order to secure a vital international bailout and a major debt relief deal with banks.

Opposition conservatives reached the power-sharing agreement with the majority Socialists in November after parliamentary opposition to austerity measures brought the previous government of Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou to the brink of collapse.

The two traditionally dominant parties have seen their popular support hammered as Greeks endure a fifth year of recession and suffer repeated rounds of wage and benefit cuts.

Parliament speaker Philippos Petsalnikos confirmed that the Papademos would formally call for elections Wednesday.

"Yesterday was the last day of the current parliament ... and today we await the declaration of elections," Petsalnikos told state-run NET television.

The conservative New Democracy party is leading in the opinion polls. However, the poll figures suggest it will not receive enough votes to form a government and would have to seek another coalition with the Socialists, as smaller parties fiercely oppose the terms of bailout agreements.

"This is the first time voters in such large numbers will cast ballots to punish political parties," Elias Nikolakopoulos, a Professor at the Department of Social Theory and Sociology at Athens University and veteran pollster, told Associated Press Television.

"The challenge for the two main parties in the May 6 election, will be to receive combined vote of more than 50 percent. At the moment, it appears their level of support is about 42 percent," he said.

"Of course it would be technically possible to form a government with less support, something like 38-39 percent. But politically they need at least 50 percent."

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AP Television's Theodora Tongas contributed.