Greece will hold national elections on May 6 to replace a cross-party coalition government that has overseen a partial sovereign default and legislated new structural measures in return for a second international bailout.

Lucas Papademos, the former central banker who took over as premier last November, asked President Karolos Papoulias to dissolve parliament and announce the election, his office said.

Mr Papademos told the cabinet: “The government’s main targets have been achieved”, although the final terms of a €40bn recapitalisation of Greek banks are still being discussed.

“This pre-electoral period is not like others…Some important decisions can’t wait until after the vote,” the premier said, warning that cabinet ministers would have to stay on the job regardless of whether they are running for election.

Campaigning has already started as the May election date had been flagged up weeks ago by government officials. Opinion polls suggest the former coalition partners – the centre-right New Democracy party and centre-left PanHellenic Socialist Movement – face an uphill struggle to win back voters angered by the prospect of several more years of austerity imposed by Greece’s international creditors.

A poll by GPO published on Monday showed New Democracy’s lead over Pasok shrinking to just four percentage points, with almost 20 per cent of voters still undecided. The two parties would together capture 36 per cent of the vote, well short of Pasok’s 43 per cent at the last election in 2009, which was held only weeks before the country’s debt crisis erupted.

Yet almost two-thirds of voters wanted another coalition to govern after the election, with Evangelos Venizelos, former finance minister and Pasok leader, holding a marginally higher approval rating than Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader, according to the same poll.

Mr Samaras raised the stakes this week, saying he would force a fresh vote if New Democracy was unable to form a government at next month’s election – a threat that, if carried out, could derail the implementation of Greece’s reform programme and risk plunging the country into a fullscale default.

International lenders have already voiced concern over the timing of the election, which comes only weeks before the new parliament is due to adopt further spending cuts equal to 5.5 per cent of national output.

The GPO poll showed that 10 per cent of voters planned to abstain or cast a blank ballot to protest against the politicians’ failure to extricate Greece from the crisis.

Lawmakers this week approved €30m of funding for political parties to contest the election, brushing aside criticism that several parties should not receive any money because they have large outstanding loans that are not being serviced. New Democracy and Pasok together have accumulated loans amounting to €240m from Agricultural Bank of Greece, a state-controlled lender.

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