Gov’t faces midterm test

Greek citizens vote tomorrow in municipal and prefectural elections that are seen as a midterm test for the ruling conservatives, who hope to retain their strongholds despite the negative impact of a month-long teacher strike and a spate of high-profile corruption cases. Polls are predicting a relatively low turnout for the elections, but this has not curbed speculation about their outcome. According to sources, the overriding hope among government cadres is that New Democracy maintains its hold on 30 of the country’s 54 prefectures. Meanwhile, opposition PASOK is hoping to boost to 27 the 22 prefectural seats it clinched in the last local authority polls in 2002. But any improvement on the Socialists’ performance four years ago, when they were in government, will be presented by PASOK leader George Papandreou as a major victory, sources say. Unlike Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has kept a relatively low profile, Papandreou has been very visible in leading his party’s pre-election campaign, traveling around the country to rally regional representatives. His itinerary has included visits to areas badly hit by recent floods, where he has condemned the government for failing to avert widespread damage. There has been no shortage of mudslinging in the countdown to polls, one of the main targets being controversial Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis, who is nevertheless almost certain to be re-elected. Another virtually sure bet in the race for Athens mayor is the conservatives’ candidate Nikitas Kaklamanis, a former health minister who has a 20-point lead on Socialist hopeful Costas Skandalidis, himself a former interior minister. As regards the post of Thessaloniki mayor, ND incumbent Vassilis Papageorgopoulos is expected to secure the 42 percent threshold for an outright victory in the first round, although his Socialist rival Chryssa Arapoglou could be a threat. Meanwhile, the conservatives’ mayoral candidate for Piraeus, Christos Agrapidis, who has held the post for two terms, faces a real threat from PASOK challenger Panayiotis Fassoulas, a former basketball player. Athens-Piraeus Prefect Fofi Gennimata is expected to secure another victory for PASOK with ND’s Argyris Dinopoulos seen as a small threat. Candidates who manage to garner 42 percent of votes tomorrow secure their election while the rest of the prefectural and prefectural posts will be decided in a second round of votes to be held next Sunday.

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