ATHENS - European leaders urged Greece to reject radical leftists who threaten to tear up the terms of a bailout deal should they win an election on Sunday, a result that would send shockwaves through global financial markets.
Riding a wave of anger to rise from political obscurity to contender for power, leftist SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, 37, is promising to reject the punishing terms of the 130 billion euro ($163.75 billion) bailout if he wins the nail-biter vote on Sunday.
On the right, establishment heir and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, 61, says that would send Greece crashing out of the single currency and condemn it to even greater economic calamity.
With the election set to go down to the wire, European leaders weighed in on Saturday, urging Greeks to vote with their heads.
The bailout will not be renegotiated, warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country's wealth is vital to shoring up its weaker partners in the bloc.
"That's why it's so important that the Greek elections preferably lead to a result in which those that will form a future government say: 'yes, we will stick to the agreements'," Merkel told a party conference of the Christian Democrats.
Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said there would be serious consequences if SYRIZA secured victory.
"If the radical left wins - which cannot be ruled out - the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable," Juncker, head of the group of euro zone finance ministers, told Austrian paper Kurier.
"We will have to speak to any government. I can only warn everyone against leaving the currency union. The internal cohesion of the euro zone would be in danger."
Tsipras says Greece's lenders are bluffing when they threaten to turn off the funds if Athens reneges on the terms of the bailout - tax hikes, job losses and pay cuts that have helped condemn the country to record-breaking recession.
FEARS FOR SPAIN, ITALY
He says the euro zone will not allow a Greek exit, fearing the pressure it would heap on the far larger economies of Spain, which has already secured a 100-billion-euro rescue for its banks, and Italy, which could be next to seek a bailout.
Sunday's vote is a re-run of a May 6 election that produced stalemate, when anger at the close-knit and often corrupt political clique that has run Greece for years propelled SYRIZA from the political fringe into second place.
Opinion polls published until a ban two weeks ago put the two parties almost neck and neck. Neither is expected to win outright, leading to coalition talks.
"My heart says I should vote for the left, for all the horrible things these (mainstream) politicians have done to us, but my mind says vote for the right, so that Greece does not leave the euro," said part-time teacher Kostas Manitsas, 28.
The result will dominate a meeting of the Group of 20 world economic powers in Mexico on Monday and Tuesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made a plea on Saturday for greater political and fiscal union in Europe, and urged Greeks to stick to the course.
"Europe has to transmit to the world that the euro is an irreversible project," Rajoy told a political rally in San Sebastian.
Greeks say they want to keep the euro, but they do not want the pension, wage and jobs cuts imposed by the bailout package and which have seen living standards plummet and unemployment reach almost 23 percent.
"Tomorrow's vote must not be based on anger but on hope," the liberal left daily Ta Nea implored in an editorial. "It must be based on the Greece of the euro, not the Greece of the drachma."