|Prime Minister Papademos met with President Karolos Papoulias to make the formal request for the election [AFP]
Lucas Papademos, Greece's prime minister, has called an early general election for May 6 after his coalition government pushed through landmark financial relief deals in a bid to rescue the country from the threat of bankruptcy.
Papademos met with President Karolos Papoulias to make the formal request for the election, 18 months before parliament's current term expires, after earlier telling the cabinet that a ballot was necessary to secure a new mandate for reforms to return Greece to growth and secure its place in the eurozone.
"These challenges constitute a national issue that the new government must handle," state television NET quoted him as telling ministers on Wednesday.
"I recommend that a proposal be made to the president to dissolve parliament and hold elections on May 6."
A new parliament will be convened on May 17, the prime minister added, according to NET.
Papademos, a former European Central Bank vice president, was appointed premier in November and spent five months pushing through harsh austerity measures in order to secure a vital international bailout and a major debt relief deal with banks.
"The main goals of our government were achieved,'' Papademos he told the cabinet meeting, according to a government transcript.
"But to complete and secure the effort to right the economy, important decisions have to be taken immediately.''
He told the cabinet that the next government must draw up a new economic plan for 2013 to 2016.
Papademos is expected to stay on to supervise the electoral process, along with most of his key ministers.
"Parliament is dissolved but the government is not," he reportedly told the cabinet, adding that ministers would have a double duty to organise the vote whilst continuing to serve at their posts.
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The conservative New Democracy Party, led by Antonis Samaras, a former foreign minister, is leading in the opinion polls for the next election.
However, the polls suggest it will not receive enough votes to form a government and would have to seek another coalition with the Socialist PASOK Party, as smaller parties fiercely oppose the terms of the bailout agreements.
Anti-austerity parties are on the rise, while a small neo-Nazi group is polling at slightly above the three per cent parliamentary entry threshold.
Evangelos Venizelos, Samaras' main opponent, resigned as finance minister on March 19 to run in the election as leader of the PASOK.
The announcement comes as pensioners hit by the government's austerity programme of wage and pension cuts marched through central Athens on Wednesday protesting against the fall in their living standards.
"We've been through so many sufferings in our youth and now we are also suffering in our older years. And we are worried about our children and grandchildren," said 85-year-old Pavlos Koufogiorgos.
"We are worried about the people, the workers, the poor, the honest. And we are being governed by dishonest people who only care about themselves and nobody else."
Most Greeks have felt the pain of salary and pension cuts and higher taxes.
Eurozone finance ministers agreed a $170bn rescue package for Greece on February 21 to avert an imminent chaotic default after Athens committed to state spending cuts and reforms to clean up its bloated debt.
The cuts were to include shaving off 12 per cent off the amount exceeding $1,700 for those receiving pensions from the state, the trimming of wages for all state employees and cutting the minimum wage by 22 per cent.
Reforms demanded by the EU and IMF along with deep budget cuts have provoked serious violence in Athens and helped propel unemployment well above 20 per cent.