NEWS

Coalition buffeted but still standing after local polls

The first round of Greece’s local elections produced a mixed result that allowed both the country’s governing parties, New Democracy and PASOK, as well as the main opposition, SYRIZA, to claim that they had performed well ahead of the second round on Sunday, when European Parliament elections will also be held.

SYRIZA produced surprises in the Municipality of Athens and the Region of Attica, where its candidates performed better than had been expected. Rena Dourou, the former SYRIZA MP, was projected to take first place in the contest for the Attica governorship, pushing the far more experienced Yiannis Sgouros, who was backed by PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR), into second place.

With around 20 percent of the votes counted, an Interior Ministry projection for the final result gave Dourou 23.2 percent and Sgouros 22. An early exit poll, when polling centers closed at 7 p.m., gave Dourou a much bigger lead, suggesting that it would turn into a memorable night for SYRIZA.

Nevertheless, Dourou’s expected win was a significant achievement. She still faces a challenge to overcome Sgouros in Sunday’s run-off vote.

“The best goals are scored in the second round,” said SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras as he left the party’s headquarters.

The leftists also toasted the achievement of Gavriil Sakellaridis, a virtual unknown outside the party before he became its candidate for the City of Athens. Interior Ministry projections showed that Sakellaridis would be narrowly pipped into second place by incumbent Giorgos Kaminis, supported by PASOK and DIMAR. Kaminis was expected to get 21 percent and Sakellaridis, who beat off competition from the more experienced Aris Spiliotopoulos of New Democracy, 20.2 percent. Kaminis and Sakellaridis will face each other on Sunday.

An acrimonious battle in Piraeus saw Yiannis Moralis, an Olympiakos soccer club official, leading incumbent Vassilis Michaloliakos, who is supported by New Democracy.

The failure of conservative candidates continued in northern Greece, where the party’s candidate for the Central Macedonia Region, Yiannis Ioannidis, trailed Apostolos Tzitzikostas, who is running as an independent, by some distance.

New Democracy’s candidate for Thessaloniki mayor, Stavros Kalafatis, also came in behind incumbent Yiannis Boutaris, who is supported by PASOK and DIMAR.

In Thessaloniki, residents were also asked to vote on whether they were in favor of plans to privatize the local water and sewage company, EYATH. The non-binding vote was organized by local officials and opponents of the sell-off. A last minute objection from the Interior Ministry meant that the ballot boxes had to be placed outside polling centers.

Initial results indicated that as many as 98 percent of those who took part in the vote opposed EYATH’s privatization. However, critics of the plebiscite pointed out that apart from being unofficial there were also questions about the vote’s reliability as the ballot boxes were transparent and ballot papers were not placed in envelopes.

Despite its failure to break through in the country’s major cities and regions, New Democracy will be encouraged by its stronger performances in other parts of Greece. While a number of conservatives made it into the second round of regional governorship races, SYRIZA only saw one more candidate apart from Dourou qualify for the run-off.

PASOK is also likely to take heart from the fact that a number of the high-profile candidates it backed, such as Kaminis and Boutaris, are in a strong position to win next weekend.

The coalition, as well as SYRIZA, will be concerned that neofascist Golden Dawn produced a strong showing in the Greek capital. Spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris was expected to win more than 15 percent of the vote in the contest for the Athens mayorship, while MP Ilias Panagiotaros was on course to get over 10 percent in the Attica region.

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