Greek PM Samaras vows tax cuts as leftists hold poll lead

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2015 10:49 AM

By Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged on Saturday to cut taxes and gradually end austerity as he seeks to woo voters and overturn a poll lead by the leftist opposition party Syriza ahead of a snap election.

At the helm of a coalition government since 2012, Samaras has pursued unpopular reforms as part of a 240 billion euro ($284.26 billion) EU/IMF bailout to pull Greece back from almost crashing out of Europe at the height of the euro zone crisis.

Opinion polls show radical leftist Syriza, which opposes Greece's international bailout program, ahead of Samaras' center-right New Democracy party with two weeks until snap polls triggered by parliament's failure to elect a new president.

Amid fierce campaigning, Samaras is trying to focus on the improvement in Greece's finances and the first signs of economic growth after a six-year recession, promising to ease the financial pressure faced by many Greeks if his party is re-elected.

"There won't be any further pension and wage cuts," he told party members and supporters at a central Athens hotel. "The next breakthrough in our growth plan includes tax cuts across the board which can happen gradually, step by step."

Greek economy grew in the first quarter last year for the first time since the second quarter of 2009 and continued expanding until the third quarter of 2014.

Samaras vowed to lower an unpopular property tax this year and reduce corporation tax to 15 percent from 26 percent gradually to boost investment.

However, in a veiled attack on his main election rivals, he tied such promises and a return to wider prosperity in Greece to successfully concluding negotiations with international lenders to exit the bailout and securing debt relief.

"Who can get that? A responsible government, as a reward for the sacrifices made by the Greek people who met the targets, without clashing with (European) partners and any kind of turbulence," he said.

Greece's bailout talks with lenders will resume once a new government is in place after the elections.

Samaras' main opponent, Syriza's head Alexis Tsipras, has taken a harder line toward EU/IMF partners, saying he wanted to cancel austerity measures which form part of the bailout that is keeping Greece afloat, raise the minimum wage and freeze state layoffs.

He also wants Europe to write off a big chunk of Greece's debt as part of a re-negotiation with lenders, something that has spooked the financial markets.

Tsipras said during a pre-election tour on Saturday Greece would become a "colony" with no future if the bailout policies continued.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Editing by Costas Pitas and Clelia Oziel)