ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras said he will not form an "unnatural" grand coalition government with conservative rivals if he wins Sunday's general election, despite polls suggesting that neither party can score an outright victory.
In a televised debate late Monday, Tsipras vowed to form a "progressive" coalition that would not include opposition leader Evangelos Meimarakis' center-right New Democracy party.
Tsipras called the snap election after reaching an agreement with eurozone countries for a massive third international bailout, despite having served only seven months as prime minister.
Harsh terms demanded for the 86 billion euro ($97 billion) rescue deal split Tsipras' radical left Syriza party, with a breakaway group toppling the government to run against him in Sunday's election.
The 41-year-old Tsipras has clung to a slim lead in opinion polls but suffered a sharp drop in his approval rating in recent weeks.
The conservatives argue a grand coalition would see Greece emerge faster from economic crisis, while Tsipras maintains his party's ascent will help end the dominance of a financial and political elite that sank the country into the debt crisis.
"After the election there will be a progressive government of national responsibility," Tsipras said during the three-hour debate with Meimarakis.
"There will be a government but not an unnatural government."
Tsipras was elected in January on a staunchly anti-bailout platform. But despite years of financial hardship for many Greeks, political support has grown for the bailout deal, with most mainstream parties now backing it.
Popular discontent has fractured the vote, however, and the number of parties elected to parliament is likely to increase from seven to nine. The extreme right Golden Dawn, which originally started as a neo-Nazi group, is vying for third place.
The brief election campaign has drawn little popular interest, but Monday's debate was broadcast live on seven state and private television channels, with Greeks tuning in to watch the lively exchange between the two main candidates — a departure from previous debates that politicians admitted had been stifled by procedure.
As Tsipras prepared to present his closing statement, Meimarakis complained that debate organizers were making his opponent look taller than him on the split monitor.
He later accused state TV managers of bias toward Tsipras during the election campaign.
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