By Lefteris Yallouros – Athens
Following the first round of local elections held in Greece on Sunday, governing coalition parties New Democracy and PASOK as well as main opposition SYRIZA apparently had something to cheer about.
Elections were held for mayors and town councils in 325 municipalities as well as prefects for 13 regions across Greece, with a run-off vote to be held on May 25. Nearly 10 million Greeks were eligible to vote, with around 50 pct turning up.
SYRIZA was successful in reaching the target the party had set of their candidates reaching the second round in the municipality of Athens and the Attica prefecture. Rena Dourou not only reached the second round but was very close to current prefect Yiannis Sgouros, who was backed by PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR) with almost 50 pct of the vote counted.
In the Athens municipality, Gavriil Sakellaridis recorded an even greater win as he catapulted himself to second place, closely behind current mayor of Athens Giorgos Kaminis, backed by PASOK and DIMAR. A virtual unknown outside the party, Sakellaridis was considered an underdog against Kaminis and experienced New Democracy candidate Aris Spiliotopoulos.
The high-profile achievements in Attica, however, were not followed by many victories in other parts of the country. While many conservatives made it into the second round of regional governorship races, SYRIZA only saw one more candidate apart from Dourou qualify for the second round next Sunday.
In the large port city of Piraeus, New Democracy – backed Vasilis Michaloliakos will battle with independent Yannis Moralis in the second round while the conservative party’s candidate for the Central Macedonia Region, Yiannis Ioannidis, trailed Apostolos Tzitzikostas, who is running as an independent.
PASOK also saw the candidates it backed reach the second round with flying colors in Athens, Thessaloniki and the regions of Attica and Crete. However, most of the eight regions it controlled are set to be lost to coalition partner New Democracy.
Most candidates and mainstream political party leaders expressed concern at the high number of votes neo-Nazi Golden Dawn gathered. While the party failed to make the run-off for the Athens mayor race, its candidate Ilias Kasidiaris managed to take almost 16 percent of the vote.
Attention turns to European Parliament election
The close race in the first round of the municipal and regional elections makes the second round and the all – important European Parliament election all the more interesting in terms of political significance. SYRIZA and New Democracy had been neck-and-neck in the polls, with around 20 percent each.
“The best goals are scored in the second leg,” Alexis Tsipras told reporters Sunday night. The SYRIZA leader made clear that next Sunday’s election battle will be “the referendum that was never held on the memorandum” [of understanding with the troika].
SYRIZA want to use these local elections and the European polls next week as a springboard for general elections.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appeared pleased with the local election results, but took the opportunity to remind voters that in next week’s European Parliament elections they will be called upon to choose between stability and allowing the country to backtrack.
Samaras’s coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos too was critical of SYRIZA, stating the center-left recorded a strong presence throughout Greece and the country was now in need of an image of progressive steadiness from next Sunday’s election result.