Two frontrunners slug it out in crucial debate before Sunday’s Greek elections

The leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, has ruled out forming a coalition with his main rival if he wins Sunday’s election.

Speaking during a debate with centre-right New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis, Mr Tsipras said such a unity government would be “unnatural”.

Polls suggests neither are likely to secure a parliamentary majority.

The two front-runners in Greece’s election race went head-to-head in a closely fought television debate on Monday as they court undecided voters who hold the key to Sunday’s ballot.

Meimarakis accused  Tsipras of broken promises, being “a little sneaky” and amnesia over signing the country’s third multi-billion euro bailout. He vowed to guarantee stability, investments and seek a broad ruling coalition if elected.

“Since he supported the bailout, he’s got amnesia,” Meimarakis said, criticizing Tsipras’s decision to resign last month and trigger a snap election. “He went to elections so he didn’t have to take responsibility for it, to run away.”

Tsipras attacked Meimarakis over his New Democracy party’s record on corruption and tax evasion and said poor negotiating on the country’s previous bailout had caused some of the most despised austerity measures such as a property tax introduced last year.

“He represents a party that has governed for 40 years, a party that burdened the country with debts, unemployment and all the corruption that we know. I don’t think Meimarakis can confront this system,” said Tsipras, looking more composed than he has for much of the three-week campaign.

Tsipiras was smiling and looked relaxed as he left the television studios after the lively and good-humored debate, while Meimarakis appeared more serious.

A week before Greeks go to the polls for the third time this year, opinion polls show about one in 10 voters are undecided.

Many are disillusioned supporters of Tsipras’s Syriza party, which split over the harsh terms of the three-year financing program. Twenty-five of his lawmakers jumped ship and formed an anti-bailout opposition party.

Meimarakis questioned Syriza’s commitment to implementing the bailout reforms and said there were already dissenters within party ranks.

“Do you really think all these people are going to vote for the laws or will we end up going to elections again?” said Meimarakis, whose man-of-the-people style has proved a hit with conservative and centrist voters.

Tsipras ruled out fresh elections but reiterated that he would not form a coalition with New Democracy: “We’re not going to form a coalition with the old political system… The country needs a progressive government.”

He also warned that a grand coalition of the pro-European parties would leave far-right party Golden Dawn as the biggest opposition group in parliament. Several Golden Dawn leaders are currently on trial facing charges including belonging to a criminal organization.

Most opinion polls show Syriza with the slimmest of leads over New Democracy, but well within the statistical margin of error.

A survey published on Monday by pollsters Metron Analysis put the parties tied at 24.6 percent, followed in a distant third by Golden Dawn on 5.6 percent. Smaller parties, including centrist To Potami and center-left Pasok, were in a virtual tie with between four and five percent.

That suggests the first-placed party will almost certainly fall short of an outright majority, forcing it to seek a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties.

Who is Meimarakis

Born in Athens in 1953, Vangelis Meimarakis’s family were from Crete and his father was an MP in the island’s main city Heraklion.

He trained as a lawyer at the University of Athens, and became involved in student politics while studying public administration at Panteion University.

He was one of the founding members New Democracy’s youth wing (ONNED).

First elected as an MP in 1989, he was ND’s chief whip from 1991 to 1992 and served as defence minister from 2006 to 2009.

Mr Meimarakis became speaker of the Greek parliament in 2012, briefly standing down that year amid a corruption scandal involving an inquiry into money laundering allegation.

He strongly denied any wrongdoing and returned to his position soon after, remaining as speaker until early 2015.

A strong supporter of keeping Greece in the eurozone, Mr Meimarakis was appointed interim leader of New Democracy in July 2015 after the resignation of Antonis Samaras.