Papandreou has not ruled out forming a coalition with other parties but Karamanlis has suggested that Greece was headed for another election if he did not win a strong mandate.

The far-right Popular Orthodox Rally could enter parliament for the first time and end up acting as a powerbroker.

Political atmosphere

Youth perspective

Harris Tsitsopoulous talks about student concerns

"When the prime minister called for these early elections just one month ago, he and all of his supporters were very confident of victory," Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Athens, said.

"But the fires have changed the political atmosphere in Greece and now the outcome is very uncertain."

The two main parties have pledged to create jobs, improve standards of living and shore up an ailing pension system in the country which is the second poorest in the euro zone.

Karamanlis has been praised by the European Union for cutting deficits and turning around Greece's economy, and he has vowed to push on with the reforms the country needs to catch up with its euro zone partners.

Despite this, Greek per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is the lowest in the zone next to Portugal's and 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

Election apathy

But for villagers in the Peloponesse archipelago, one the areas worst-hit by the blazes that torched homes, farms, olive groves and vineyards, it matters little who wins on Sunday.

"We have been burnt here, we can't even think of elections," Dimos Vlachos said in Makistos village, where his wife was among seven people who died.

"We have been burnt here, we can't even think of elections"

Dimos Vlachos,
Pelponnese villager
"We don't see or feel the elections. We are in limbo here, we are in limbo."

The government handed out immediate compensation of about $4,000 for each victim but locals say there are many who are still too shocked to lodge their claims.

The government also outlined a reconstruction programme for the regions affected by the fires. Some victims fear a change of government could mean those pledges were ignored.

"I want the same government again because if things change again, with what we have already suffered, it will set us back even further," Asimo Bourouyanopoulou in the village of Artemida, told Reuters news agency.

More than 9.8 million people are eligible to vote Sunday, out of a population of 11.4 million, in Greece's 12th parliamentary election since democracy was restored in 1974 following a military dictatorship. Nearly 500,000 are first-time voters.

Polling boycott

Meanwhile, the 500 inhabitants of a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea are threatening to boycott the elections in protest against poor transport links, the mayor of the island of Lipsi said on Saturday.

"We have decided not to set up a polling station on our island to protest against the reduced service to Piraeus [the country's largest port]," Benetos Spyrou told Flash radio.

Spyrou had like other small-island mayors requested that the ministry of mercantile marine increase the number of ferries to and from Lipsi.

The tiny island in the Dodecanese archipelago is currently only serviced once a week during the summer and even less frequently in the winter.