ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's former governing radical-left party is unlikely to win an outright majority in a crucial national election next month, and its lead over the opposition conservatives has narrowed, early opinion polls showed Friday.
The polls also found that former prime minister Alexis Tsipras' popularity has tanked in recent months to the lowest since his election in January.
The poll results, which indicate that the debt-crippled country might even need a second election before a government can be formed, came hours after a caretaker government was formed ahead of the Sept. 20 vote.
Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou, the first woman to hold the post, was appointed Thursday following Tsipras' resignation last week. He stepped down after a rebellion by members of his radical-left Syriza party who objected to his agreement with the conditions of Greece's third international bailout.
The deal rankled with many Greeks, as Tsipras was elected on promises to reverse the resented income cuts and tax hikes that accompanied Greece's first two bailouts, contributed to a spike in unemployment that is still above 25 percent, and wiped a quarter off the economy.
Tsipras, who resigned barely seven months into his four-year term, has said he needs a stronger mandate to implement the tough austerity measures accompanying the new three-year, 86 billion euro ($97 billion) bailout.
The first opinion polls since Tsipras' resignation, published Friday, showed that his popularity has fallen significantly since the bailout deal, while Syriza has lost ground to the conservative main opposition New Democracy.
A University of Macedonia survey for private Skai TV gave Syriza 25 percent, down from 34.5 percent in June — and not nearly enough to secure him more than half of parliament's 300 seats. That compares to 22 percent for ND, which gained from 16.5 percent in June.
It also projects that nine parties will enter parliament. Crucially, it shows that Tsipras' former coalition partner, the right wing populist Independent Greeks — the only party Tsipras has said he could form a new coalition with — will fall short of the three percent parliamentary entry threshold. If confirmed, and if Tsipras sticks to his word, that would leave him unable to form a coalition, but ND would face similar difficulties.
Tsipras' popularity has tanked to 30 percent, from 70 percent in March, with the drop sharpening after his decision to hold a referendum in July over the terms of Greece's bailout.
Some 56.5 percent of respondents had a negative view of how Tsipras' government has performed overall, and 60.5 percent said his decision to hold early elections would harm the country.
The undecided vote was set at 14.5 percent. The nationwide telephone survey, conducted Aug. 25-27, gave a maximum 2.96 percent margin of error.
Three other polls gave Syriza a lead over ND of 1, 2 and 3.5 percentage points.
The new caretaker government under Thanou, who is a top judge, will have to oversee the implementation of several of the strict austerity measures which are conditions of the new bailout.
The critical finance ministry post went to Giorgos Houliarakis, an academic who had been on Greece's negotiating team during talks with creditors.
The new finance minister said Friday his main target would be "to not waste valuable time" and strengthen the country's banking system as quickly as possible.
"We must consider that the Greek economy is already in a recessionary phase — which I hope will not last long — and (we must aim) to end, as soon as possible, the banking restrictions so that the economy can start functioning at a faster pace in 2016," Houliarakis said.
To forestall a looming bank run by scared depositors, at the end of June strict limits were imposed on the sum Greeks can withdraw from banks every day, while curtailing most forms of bank transactions. The restrictions remain in force.
Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.