Greece plunged on Sunday into an unofficial election campaign, just two days after a landmark debt-cutting deal, with government coalition partners trading barbs ahead of a looming April ballot.
Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who has three ministers in the coalition and a commanding lead in opinion polls, said a "strong" government was needed when early elections are held after April 15, the Orthodox Easter.
"Everybody knows that elections will be held immediately after Easter," New Democracy leader Samaras told a party gathering.
"I cannot change things if I need to step on the delicate balance of a ramshackle coalition...I want my hands free so that the country can get back to its feet," he said.
The coalition government, which mostly includes ministers from the socialist Pasok party, has yet to name a specific date for the poll.
Both parties must agree on a date, and the socialists are about to elect a new leader on March 18.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Sunday emerged as the sole candidate to take over the leadership from George Papandreou, son of party founder Andreas Papandreou.
He inherits a divided party facing its worst ratings in decades after two years of unpopular austerity policies.
The Greek coalition government, headed by former European Central Bank deputy Lucas Papademos, was formed in November to complete a bond swap with private creditors to make Greece's huge debt sustainable, and clinch a new 130-billion-euro ($173-billion) eurozone bailout to avert a looming default on March 20.
The first task was completed on Friday, when banks and investors agreed or were obliged to exchange over 100 billion euros in debt.
Eurozone finance ministers immediately unblocked part of a second aid package of 130 billion euros and were expected to approve the rest in the coming week.
The government is expected to conclude its mandate by April 12, government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said on Friday.
Bonds issued under Greek law will be swapped on March 12, while international law obligations will be exchanged on April 11.
And Greece's parliament is to ratify the eurozone bailout by the end of March.
"Parliament must remain open to ratify the (bailout)... Around the end of March the task will be complete," Kapsis told private television station Skai.
"The bond swap will be complete by April 12 and the government's task will be over," he said.
Under the Greek constitution, elections must be held within 30 days of the parliament being dissolved.
Greece's eurozone peers have viewed the planned vote with dismay, fearing that the electoral campaign will slow the course of vital structural reforms.
There is also concern that anger towards the austerity measures adopted by the socialist and conservative parties will push voters towards left-wing opponents of the EU-IMF rescue who seek to scupper the economic overhaul.
Samaras has also criticised the austerity reforms mandated by the EU and the IMF as too focused on cuts, and not enough on growth.
"To make the debt cut work, we voted for things we disagree with," he said on Sunday.
"We haven't stopped telling our creditors that to achieve (fiscal) targets we must change some things in the programme...to bring recovery sooner."
"We've been saying these things from the start, we insist on them today," he said.
Legislative elections were originally to be held next year, but socialist prime minister Papandreou stepped down halfway through his term in November to make way for Papademos' coalition government.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has previously voiced doubts about an early Greek vote, on Sunday praised a "smart" decision by Italy to hold its own elections in 2013 as previously scheduled.
"I have previously said that I'm not sure if holding elections in Greece soon is what is best," Schaeuble told To Vima weekly.
"I thought the Italian decision to give more time to its government of technocrats was very smart...since Greece has decided, there's no point talking about it any more...it is its sovereign decision...(but) the country must meet its obligations regardless of the electoral outcome," he said.
Samaras' New Democracy party comfortably leads opinion polls.
But its ratings have suffered from its four-month stint in government when additional austerity measures were approved on top of prior salary and pension cuts imposed over the past two years, causing strikes and violent protests.
Whether the conservatives will win enough votes for a comfortable government majority is unclear, political analysts have warned, and small new parties formed by renegade deputies from both parties compound the uncertainty.
Charles Dallara, managing director of the International Institute of Finance, meanwhile told Ethnos daily Greece would see the benefits of a landmark debt swap with private creditors "sooner than expected... I can see the light at the end of the tunnel much sooner than others can".