By DEREK GATOPOULOS and NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on Wednesday called a general election in Greece for May 6, after his coalition government pushed through landmark financial relief deals that rescued the country from the threat of bankruptcy but doomed recession-hit Greeks to greater hardship.
"The main goals of our government were achieved," Papademos told a Cabinet meeting, according to a government transcript seen by The Associated Press. "I propose ... that elections are held on May 6."
Papademos will meet later with President Karolos Papoulias to make the formal request for the election, 18 months before parliament's current term expires.
Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, was appointed prime minister in November and spent 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 Socialist Pasok party 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 as the unemployment rate surged to 21 percent.
The conservative New Democracy party, led by former Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras, is leading in the opinion polls for the next election. However, the polls 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.
Samaras' main opponent, Evangelos Venizelos, resigned as finance minister on March 19 to run in the election as leader of the Pasok party.
"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 a veteran pollster, told Associated Press Television.
"The challenge for the two main parties in the May 6 election will be to receive a 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."
AP Television's Theodora Tongas contributed to this report.