The government insisted yesterday that the final results of Sunday’s local elections were a boost for its reformist agenda, despite a late upset which means that the New Democracy candidate for Thessaloniki mayor will have to take part in a runoff vote on Sunday. PASOK, meanwhile, said that there were positive signs for its hopes of beating the ruling conservatives at the next general elections. As well as retaining control of the City of Athens, where former Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis was voted mayor, and holding on to the Thessaloniki Prefecture, New Democracy also won a total of 28 of the 54 prefectures around Greece. PASOK won an outright majority in 17 prefectures and took control of two others with the help of Synaspismos Left Coalition. New Democracy was also boosted by a VPRC poll on behalf of Skai TV yesterday that put the conservatives 4 percent ahead of PASOK on a national level. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos played down the implications of the results of the local elections for the political parties but added that if someone wanted to draw conclusions, «they should talk of a plethora of prefectures who chose candidates that were supported by the ruling party.» On Sunday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis indicated that the results renewed his mandate to continue with reforms, although he admitted that his government had made some mistakes since coming to power in March 2004. «We accept criticism from others but our overall policy is correct and it is bearing tangible results,» said Roussopoulos. «Reforms are the main basis of our direction and we will continue with them.» New Democracy sources told Kathimerini that even though seven prefectures will hold a runoff vote on Sunday, the conservatives had already achieved their target of winning 28 regional governorships. PASOK gave a different interpretation of the figures, saying that the votes gathered in 41 prefectures, where neither party was faced with a rebel candidate from within its ranks, showed that New Democracy had garnered 41.77 percent of the vote, marginally ahead of the Socialists on 41.63 percent. PASOK party secretary Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou also pointed out that New Democracy was ahead of the Socialists by only some 1,000 votes in five prefectures. The victory of former basketball player Panayiotis Fassoulas in the mayoral race in Piraeus and Fofi Gennimata’s success in holding on to the Athens-Piraeus Prefecture were key wins for PASOK, which hoped that Sunday’s elections would see the government suffer a midterm dip in its popularity. PASOK sources told Kathimerini that the Socialists had been hoping to win some 25 prefectures. PASOK leader George Papandreou’s decision to nominate 28-year-old Gulbeyaz Karahasan, a Greek Muslim woman, to run for Drama-Kavala-Xanthi prefect did not have the desired effect as she was soundly beaten by New Democracy’s candidate Constantinos Tatsis. Macedonia-Thrace Minister Giorgos Kalatzis said the result was a «personal defeat» for Papandreou. Xenoyiannakopoulou said that an accurate assessment of PASOK’s performance would only be possible after the results of Sunday’s runoff votes are known. Several mayoral places will be contested on Sunday. The two most significant contests will be in Thessaloniki and Patras. In Patras, former PASOK minister Andreas Fouras gained 34.79 percent and will run off against New Democracy’s Evangelos Floratos, who received 34.07 percent. Xenoyiannakopoulou called for a «big effort» on Sunday from voters who wanted a change in Thessaloniki as PASOK’s candidate trailed New Democracy’s incumbent mayor by some distance. Final figures confirmed yesterday that New Democracy’s Vassilis Papageorgopoulos finished a breath away from tying up the mayorship, gaining 41.43 percent of votes. PASOK’s Chryssa Arapoglou came in well behind with 21.60 percent. If no candidate gets more than 42 percent then the elections go to a second round. The outcome was clearer in Athens, as New Democracy’s Kaklamanis gained 46.07 percent versus 28.8 percent for his Socialist-backed rival Costas Skandalidis. The port of Piraeus went to PASOK representative Panayiotis Fassoulas, who won with 45.09 percent. Fassoulas takes over from New Democracy’s Christos Agrapidis, who managed only 32.06 percent. The Socialists also held on to the position of the Athens-Piraeus prefect. Incumbent Fofi Gennimata earned 43.41 percent of votes while New Democracy rival Argyris Dinopoulos ended with 33.82 percent. Meanwhile, figures also showed that voter abstention was at the same levels as the previous municipal elections. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that across Greece 72.43 percent of those entitled to vote took part in the election. The figure in 2002 was 72.62 percent. In Athens, only 57.78 percent of voters went to the polls on Sunday.