* History weighs on conservative leader
* Early critic of bailout, now strongest defender
* Scion of prestigious Greek family
ATHENS, June 15 Antonis Samaras was once its
fiercest critic, but the Greek conservative leader is now the
last man standing between the EU/IMF bailout keeping Greece
afloat and the leftist leader who would tear it up.
Family history weighs heavily on the 61-year-old as he
battles to keep Greece part of the euro zone project, the
pinnacle of the continent's drive to unite after World War Two.
His great-grandmother Penelope Delta, a celebrated author of
patriotic children's books, committed suicide in 1941, unable to
stand the sight of German tanks rolling down the streets of
Such heritage has sometimes propelled Samaras towards the
most right-wing corner of the conservative New Democracy party
he has led since 2009.
It saw him resist the cuts in wages and pensions, the tax
rises and economic liberalisation pressed upon Greece as the
price of international bailouts to stave off bankruptcy, and
which led to relations between Athens and euro zone paymaster
Germany hitting new lows.
He voted against the first bailout, and then only
reluctantly backed the second, worth 130 billion euros. Now he
is the deal's most vigorous defender.
"If we cancel the bailout plan we will turn into the black
sheep of Europe," Samaras told a campaign rally on Wednesday,
imploring voters not to trust his leftist rival Alexis Tsipras.
Leader of the SYRIZA party, Tsipras has emerged virtually
from nowhere to challenge for government on Sunday, vowing to
tear up the terms of the bailout and call Europe's bluff. He
says the euro zone will not eject Greece for fear of the
consequences for other indebted members such as Spain and Italy.
Samaras says Tsipras is gambling with Greece's future, and
has framed the election debate as a choice between keeping the
euro or returning to the drachma and the economic calamity this
will almost certainly herald.
"If they feel like playing poker, they should play at home.
You don't gamble with Greece," Samaras told the rally.
The scion of one of Greece's most prestigious families,
including politicians, authors and national benefactors, Samaras
was once the room mate of former Socialist Prime Minister George
Papandreou at Boston's Amherst College.
Critics even within his own party say that although Samaras
is outgoing and has good communication skills, he is politically
secretive and works with a tiny cabal of trusted aides.
In the campaign for the May 6 election, Samaras limited his
appearances to carefully staged speeches or pre-recorded chats
with ordinary people, hoping to avoid errors that would cut his
lead in the last leg of the race.
New Democracy and its fellow-establishment rival PASOK were
roundly punished, and SYRIZA emerged in second place.
But this time around, Samaras has swallowed a fear of
hecklers, removed his jacket and mingled with voters.
An American-trained economist, Samaras has held several
government portfolios, including foreign affairs, since 1989. He
defected from New Democracy leading to the party's fall from
power in 1993, to found his own party, Political Spring.
But he returned to the fold in 2004 when Costas Karamanlis
won elections for the conservatives. He took over as party
leader in late 2009, when New Democracy suffered a crushing
defeat at the onset of the debt crisis.
"He is a patriot, has been since his youth. In all things,
his main yardstick is what is good for Greece, not for himself
or his party," said Dinos Arkoumakis, deputy vice chancellor of
City University of London and a long-time Samaras friend.