Antonis Samaras took over yesterday as the leader of New Democracy from Costas Karamanlis after scoring a clear victory in Sunday’s election, which is seen as a clear mandate for the former finance, foreign and culture minister to begin reshaping the conservative party. With almost all of the votes counted by last night, Samaras had taken 50.31 percent of the vote, compared to 39.34 for his main rival Dora Bakoyannis and 10.34 for Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis. Many had expected that none of the candidates would get the 50 percent needed to prevent a second round. But Samaras’s percentage represented a major victory for him, especially considering that Psomiadis was regarded to be diverting votes from the would-be ND leader. Conversely, the result was a huge blow for ex-Foreign Minister Bakoyannis, who pledged that she would back the new party president, despite significant disagreements during the six-week campaign. Samaras’s victory was made even more significant by the unexpectedly high turnout. Almost 750,000 ND members cast their ballots on Sunday, despite a series of technical problems. This seemed to justify Samaras’s decision early in the campaign to support a change in the party’s constitution to allow this form of voting as opposed to Bakoyannis’s lukewarm reaction to the idea. In his brief victory speech, Samaras stressed that he wanted to maintain party unity following a campaign that became fractious at times. He promised to «use a sponge» to wipe clean the differences of the past and to be open to ideas from other conservatives. Samaras met with outgoing party leader Costas Karamanlis yesterday. The ex-prime minister pledged his full support for his successor. «It goes without saying that all of us will be by your side, whatever you will need.» The new ND president also held talks with Prime Minister George Papandreou. One of Samaras’s first tasks will be to convene a meeting of ND deputies so that a new secretary of the parliamentary group can be elected. Then the party’s central committee must meet to name a new party secretary, as Lefteris Zagoritis announced his resignation on October 5. A new party spokesman also has to be appointed, as Giorgos Koumoutsakos is taking up his position in Strasbourg as an MEP.