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Greek PM Faces Confidence Vote, Seeks to Quell Snap Poll Fears

Greek lawmakers attend a parliament session for a confidence vote in Athens, Oct. 8, 2014.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras seeks a confidence vote on Friday to rally support for his plan to abandon a widely-reviled EU/IMF aid package and end mounting speculation that his government is on its last legs.

After dodging various crises and lawmaker defections during his nearly two-and-half years in office, Samaras faces the prospect of snap polls if he fails to push through his candidate in a presidential election in early 2015.

But the conservative leader hopes the confidence vote will show Athens is determined to avoid early elections and force grumbling lawmakers into publicly backing him, allowing him to present a united front as he negotiates with EU/IMF lenders on exiting a 240-billion-euro ($300-billion) bailout a year early.

The parliamentary ballot, which Samaras should win, is expected late on Friday.

“The vote of confidence will end a period of doubts and rumors and we will move on smoothly to the next phase, which is a crucial period,” said Christos Protopappas, a senior official at PASOK, the junior partner in Samaras's government.

He cited upcoming talks with lenders on funding, debt and the early bailout exit as key issues for the government to face.

“In order to do these three steps, we need political stability,” he said. “The government and the parties supporting it in this course need to make clear that they are determined. This is exactly what this vote of confidence is about.”

A maximum of 292 lawmakers will be present for the vote, with eight far-right Golden Dawn lawmakers in an Athens jail pending trial on criminal charges.

Samaras should be able to count on the combined support of at least 155 lawmakers from his New Democracy party and the Socialist PASOK, after a rebel lawmaker returned to the conservative fold on Thursday.

“We had a long discussion and all misunderstandings were resolved,” said Nikitas Kaklamanis, a longtime New Democracy lawmaker who was thrown out of the party for not backing a contentious reform bill in March.

The presidency

The confidence vote, in effect, sets in motion a frenetic government campaign to woo independent and some opposition lawmakers ahead of the presidential election in February.

Samaras needs the support of 180 lawmakers to secure victory for his candidate for president, which the second-largest party in parliament - the anti-bailout, far-leftist Syriza party - has promised to block.

Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved and elections called if it cannot elect a president. Opinion polls say Syriza would almost certainly win an early ballot.

Samaras is gambling that ditching the bailout and its hated austerity measures will help lure anti-bailout lawmakers to back him during the presidential vote. But investors fear quitting the bailout in 2015 - a year ahead of schedule - would expose Greece to bond market volatility and could mean a derailing of reform efforts promised under the current aid package.

Greek officials including the finance minister are due to travel to Washington this weekend to meet IMF chief Christine Lagarde, a Greek official said, where they are likely to discuss plans for the bailout exit and additional debt relief.