By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's anti-bailout leftist SYRIZA party is maintaining its poll lead ahead of a June 17 election that is deemed critical to the country's continued membership of the euro zone, a poll showed on Thursday.
Greece was forced to call a repeat election after a May 6 vote left parliament divided evenly between groups of parties that support and oppose austerity conditions attached to a 130 billion euro rescue agreed with lenders in March.
The Public Issue/Skai TV poll showed SYRIZA leading with 30 percent of the vote, four points ahead of the conservative New Democracy party, which is backing the bailout. In a previous survey by the same pollster on May 19, SYRIZA was leading with 28 percent to New Democracy's 24 percent.
If repeated on June 17, such a result would give SYRIZA a large majority in parliament, although not big enough to rule alone.
Greece's election rules give the party that comes first an automatic bonus of 50 seats in the 300-seat house, meaning even the slightest edge could play a decisive role in determining who forms the next government.
SYRIZA's charismatic, 37-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras was the respondents' first choice when they were asked who was best suited to become Prime Minister, with 24 percent versus 19 percent who preferred New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras.
But another survey published on Thursday by Data RC, a little-known pollster, showed a different picture, with New Democracy slightly ahead with 29.4 percent to SYRIZA's 28.8 percent.
Polls since the May 6 election have shown SYRIZA and the two pro-bailout parties, New Democracy and the Socialist PASOK, steadily improving their performance at the expense of smaller parties. (http://link.reuters.com/ket38s)
The failure of New Democracy and PASOK which dominated Greek politics for decades to win a pro-bailout majority on May 6, and the success of SYRIZA which came second, have sent shock waves through Europe.
If Greece renounces the bailout, EU leaders say they will pull the plug on funding, leading to rapid bankruptcy and an exit from the single currency.
The overwhelming majority of Greeks, 85 percent according to Public Issue, want to keep the euro. But at the same time they oppose the austerity conditions agreed with the EU and IMF.
"There's a contradiction -- the same people profess to be pro-euro but anti-bailout, they see no link between the two," said Yannis Mavris, a pollster with Public Issue.
About 56 percent of respondents in the Data RC poll said a return to the drachma would be "catastrophic".
Agency Date ND SYRIZA PASOK I.G. KKE D.L. G.D.
*D.RC 24/5 29.4 28.8 13.3 6.6 5.8 4.1 6.4
*P.I. 24/5 26.0 30.0 15.5 8.0 5.0 6.5 4.0
*P.I. 19/5 24.0 28.0 15.0 8.0 5.0 7.0 4.5 *Alco 19/5 23.1 21.4 13.5 7.3 5.2 6.0 3.8
*MRB 19/5 24.4 23.8 14.5 8.5 5.9 6.9 5.8 *Metr. 19/5 23.8 25.1 17.4 7.8 5.8 6.3 4.8
*MARC 17/5 26.1 23.7 14.9 8.1 5.8 6.3 4.8 *Pulse 17/5 21.5 24.5 15.5 8.0 6.0 6.0 6.0
VPRC 16/5 14.5 20.3 10.9 3.7 4.4 6.1 2.2 Kapa 13/5 18.1 20.5 12.2 8.4 6.5 5.0 5.8 *Metr. 12/5 21.7 25.5 14.6 10.5 5.3 5.4 4.7
*MARC 10/5 20.3 27.7 12.6 10.2 7.0 4.9 5.7
Elect. 6/5 18.9 16.8 13.2 10.6 8.5 6.1 7.0
* Poll result effectively excludes undecided voters and those who refused to say how they will vote to project how the poll data would translate into an actual vote result.
** Date of publication
ND: New Democracy (Conservative, pro-bailout)
SYRIZA: Left Coalition (Leftist, anti-bailout)
PASOK: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (socialist, pro-bailout)
I.G.: Independent Greeks (conservative, anti-bailout)
KKE: Communists (anti-bailout)
D.L.: Democratic Left (moderate left, anti-austerity)
G.D.: Golden Dawn (far-right, anti-bailout)
(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Michael Roddy)