M. Continuo

Greek opposition leader calls on parties to set early election date

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras on Monday called on party leaders to set a date for an early election, arguing polls must be held before the government signs any binding deals with EU/IMF lenders.

Greece's government is under growing pressure ahead of a presidential vote in February, which could trigger a snap election and bring Tsipras's radical leftist Syriza party to power.

The government is negotiating an early exit from Greece's EU/IMF bailout. Tsipras has suggested a future Syriza government would not respect decisions made without its consent.

Tsipras has repeatedly demanded an early election to end the period of uncertainty hanging over the country, and the call for a meeting of political leaders appeared to be a new effort to raise pressure on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

"We request that political leaders meet immediately to agree on a date for national elections, before the presidential vote and before new binding deals are signed with the lenders, to give -- in an orderly and coordinated way -- people the sovereign right of deciding," Tsipras said after meeting President Karolos Papoulias.

Greece's next scheduled election is for summer 2016, but a snap poll would be called if Samaras fails to get elected his nominee for president, support for which he currently does not have. Opinion polls show Syriza leading with a 4 to 11 percentage point margin over Samaras's conservatives.

"Mr. Samaras's choice to lead the country to an extended, morbid, period of tension until March, despite the fact, as is evident, that he does not have the parliamentary majority to elect a president through this parliament, is a choice of destabilisation," Tsipras said.

Samaras, who also met Papoulias on Monday, said he refused to bow to Tsipras's demand for an early election, saying he was convinced parliament would elect a president in February.

"We've walked too long a road to blow everything up now," Samaras told reporters.

Samaras's coalition government has 155 deputies in the 300-seat parliament and needs the support of 180 lawmakers to secure victory for its candidate. Syriza and other anti-bailout parties have promised to block his candidate.

Samaras has staked hopes of avoiding an early election on a plan to quit the EU/IMF bailout programme by the end of the year, over a year ahead of schedule. He hopes abandoning the unpopular programme will win over enough lawmakers to push through his presidential nominee.

But his plan has run into trouble with Greek bond yields spiking above an unsustainable level of 9 percent last month and the growing expectation of a credit line in the post-bailout era that would be tied to strict conditions.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)