Local elections renew mandate for reforms

Honors were even between the ruling New Democracy party and the main opposition PASOK in the most notable results of yesterday’s local elections as the conservatives secured the post of Athens mayor for another term while the Socialists won the post of Piraeus mayor. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis declared that the result was a renewal of his mandate to carry out reforms, and he stressed that national elections will be held when the government’s four-year term ends in 2008. PASOK leader George Papandreou kept up his harsh criticism of the government, saying that the sooner national elections are held the better it will be for the country. At the provincial level, all but six of the 54 provinces appeared to be decided last night, thanks to the new law according to which a candidate getting more than 42 percent of the vote wins in the first round. New Democracy appeared to have won 28 provinces and PASOK 18, with another two in a close race and a further six going into a second round next Sunday. Former Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis had a comfortable victory in the race to become Athens mayor, according to exit polls last night. Kaklamanis gained 46-49 percent of the vote compared to up to 29.5 percent for his PASOK rival Costas Skandalidis, according to a survey by VPRC on behalf of Skai TV and Radio. Speaking to reporters as he made his way to campaign headquarters in Syntagma Square, Kaklamanis, who begins his mayoral tenure on January 1, said he is ready for «to fight the city’s problems.» Political commentators were surprised by the 11-13 percent of the Athenian vote gained by Synaspismos Left Coalition’s young candidate Alexis Tsipras. «Athenians have proved with their vote that nobody can take them for granted,» said the 32-year-old engineer. Skandalidis focused on the poor turnout with some commentators saying that it reached a record low. Exact figures were not available to immediately support these estimates. PASOK claimed a significant victory in Piraeus where former basketball player Panayiotis Fassoulas ousted current mayor Christos Agrapidis, the New Democracy candidate. According to VPRC, Fassoulas gathered 46.5-49.5 percent of the vote, taking him above the 42 percent threshold, which means that he avoids a runoff vote next Sunday with the second-placed candidate, which was Agrapidis, who gained up to 34 percent. «We have formed a political coalition which does away with the party affiliations of the past,» said Fassoulas. «The people of Piraeus have voted against polarization.» The Socialists also secured the position of Athens-Piraeus prefect, who oversees the work of the Athens and the Piraeus mayors. Incumbent Fofi Gennimata was re-elected comfortably. VPRC gave Gennimata 42.5-45.5 percent, meaning that she held off competition from New Democracy’s Argyris Dinopoulos, who came in at 33.5-36.5 percent. Gennimata pledged to continue her work with «power,» «sensitivity,» and «love.» As the official results for 54 prefectures and more than 1,000 mayors and community leaders were yet to be confirmed, both main political parties claimed victory in yesterday’s elections. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis suggested that the results were timely backing for his government’s reform policies. «We know that various interpretations will be given to the results. Local elections do not lend themselves to this end. An increasing number of people vote based on local government issues. Fanaticism and polarization is on the wane and this is a positive development,» said Karamanlis, insisting that his government would avoid making unachievable «populist» pledges in the runup to the next general election. Karamanlis indicated that he would not call early elections. The government’s term in office runs until March 2008. «I do not deny that there have been mistakes but our overall strategy is correct. The reforms will continue because our country needs them. Inactivity is not a solution,» he added. PASOK leader Papandreou, however, accused the government of «hiding the truth» from voters as he claimed victory for the Socialists. «The sooner we have national elections, the better,» he said. Papandreou said his party had been «renewed» and was waiting to take on the ruling conservatives. Meanwhile, in Thessaloniki, New Democracy’s Vassilis Papageorgopoulos appeared poised to hold on to his post as mayor. VPRC’s exit poll suggested he would receive 42-45 percent of the vote – just enough to avoid a runoff next Sunday against PASOK’s Chryssa Arapoglou. New Democracy claimed a comfortable victory in the race for Thessaloniki prefect, where incumbent Panayiotis Psomiadis was expected to gain around 50 percent of the vote. Psomiadis seemed to cast off the negative publicity that had surrounded him recently and cruised to victory ahead of PASOK’s candidate, former Olympic champion hurdler Voula Patoulidou. In his victory speech, Psomiadis blasted his critics and «mudslingers» and said that he would continue to «stand tall.»