ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras told thousands of supporters at his final campaign rally Friday that Sunday's general election was an opportunity for them to bury Greece's corrupt political elite who sank the country into a years-long financial crisis.
Speaking in Athens' main Syntagma Square, the charismatic 41-year-old former prime minister urged voters to seize a historic opportunity.
"The choice you face is to turn back or to keep fighting on together. Turning back would mean to return to a course of 40 years that piled debts on Greeks," he said, marking the end of a four-week campaign that attracted little public interest.
Sunday's election winner is likely to require the support of two smaller parties to form a coalition government, according to five opinion polls published Friday evening that suggested Tsipras made late gains and was ahead by a narrow margin.
Tsipras has ruled out forming a grand coalition with Vangelis Meimarakis' conservative New Democracy party — despite a commitment from both leaders to implement the new 86 billion euro ($97 billion) international bailout agreement.
Meimarakis, 61, ran as an outsider, starting the race as caretaker leader of his party, but made gains wooing swing voters — farmers, women, and residents of his ancestral home on the island of Crete — with the message that Tsipras could not be trusted after abandoning his anti-bailout platform.
"With all the promises he broke and damage he did ... why should Mr. Tsipras be given a second chance?" he told members of a conservative women's association in his final campaign appearance.
Tsipras resigned as prime minister and called the early election last month after reaching an agreement with eurozone creditors for a third bailout for Greece — a move that triggered a split within his party and saw his huge lead in opinion polls evaporate.
Under Greece's electoral system, the top party receives a 50-seat bonus in the 300-member parliament. The leading three parties each have three days to try to form a coalition, in successive rounds of consultations, if the vote produces a hung parliament.
Softening earlier objections, Tsipras has indicated that he could work with the socialist PASOK party and the centrist Potami parties as possible partners.
"Our aim is to get a governing majority. But even if we don't get that majority, we will have a government in first round of consultations," he told Antenna television on Friday.
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