Papandreou sees the municipal and regional polls as a litmus test [EPA]

Greek residents have begun voting in local and regional polls amid threats by the country's prime minister to dissolve parliament if his government loses electoral support.

Around 9.8 million voters are registered to vote in the first round of the municipal and regional elections that began on Sunday.

"I am not glued to my post. I am only interested in fighting for my country ... It's up to the citizens to decide whom they trust to govern the country," George Papandreou told local media.

"Citizens will decide in today's election if we will hold steady on the path of salvation ... or if we will go back to decay and to the Greece of bankruptcy," the prime minister, who has been trying to enforce more budget cuts and structural reforms under $155.6bn EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, said.

Papandreou also said that his decision would be based largely on how his candidates perform in the
first round of elections in 13 newly created regions.

However, he has not set a specific threshold for the support he requires.

The ruling Socialist party came to power in October last year on plans to boost welfare spending. But they were soon forced to switch to pay cuts, tax hikes and a pension freeze after a debt crisis erupted when they revealed Greece's finances were much worse than expected.

Budget deadline

Papandreou has been widely criticised for threatening a general election, ahead of a year-end deadline
set by the EU and IMF under the bailout plan to slash the budget deficit.

"Holding early elections at this point would be a disaster" for the economy," Ilias Nikolakopoulos, a political analyst, told the AFP news agency.

"It would be unacceptable to Greece's creditors. No country that has accepted IMF support has called national elections in stride."

Contrary to other deficit-ridden countries like Ireland and Portugal, the ruling Socialist party has a comfortable parliamentary majority and recent opinion polls give them a lead over the main opposition New Democracy party.

But analysts say the most likely outcome of snap general elections would be a coalition or a single-party government with a wafer-thin majority.

Source: Agencies