PASOK turns focus to local issues

After thanking Greek voters for providing PASOK with enough support in Sunday’s local poll to justify Prime Minister George Papandreou not calling snap general elections, the government yesterday asked the electorate to vote based on local administration issues in next Sunday’s second round, when 221 municipalities and 11 regions will still be up for grabs. The elections on Sunday, November 7, will be remembered for one thing above all others: that Papandreou decided the outcome showed his center-left government had enough of a mandate, despite the unpopular austerity measures it has adopted this year, to continue governing. «For the prime minister and the government, the political chapter of these elections closed last night,» said Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis, one of Papandreou’s most trusted aides. «Thanks to the wise votes of the Greek people, the possible drama of political instability… has now been dispelled.» He called on Greeks, who will return to the ballot box next week to decide who will be governor in major regions such as Attica and mayor in municipalities such as Thessaloniki, to vote based on local issues. «The second round will be decided solely by local administration matters, by [the] Kallikratis [reform of local government] and to what extent the candidates can lead local government into a new era.» In the New Democracy camp, the conservatives were playing up Sunday’s result as a moral victory for them, particularly as Papandreou withdrew his general election challenge. «PASOK has suffered a strategic defeat because its bluff failed and the Greek people sent a strong message that they want a change in direction,» ND leader Antonis Samaras told some of his party’s MPs yesterday. The conservatives are hoping that they will be able to win some key seats in the second round, including the Attica region, where their candidate Vassilis Kikilias trailed PASOK’s Yiannis Sgouros. «We can win Attica and we will win Attica. The success of the fight lies in your hands,» Samaras told the deputies. However, a projection of the vote on a national basis conducted by Public Issue indicated that there was little for either of the main parties to celebrate. Compared to 43.92 percent of the national vote in the October 2009 national elections, PASOK only got 34.63 percent on Sunday. New Democracy, which had apparently hit rock bottom in 2009 when it obtained 33.48 percent in the parliamentary vote, only managed 32.72 in the local ones. The only party that managed to increase its share of the national vote was the Communist Party (KKE). Based on yesterday’s projections, it got 10.88 percent on Sunday compared to 7.54 percent last October. However, there was one statistic that will make all the parties ponder deeply. The turnout for Sunday’s vote was a record low, as 39 percent of voters stayed at home, surpassing the previous high of just over 37 percent, set during the 2009 European Parliamentary elections. Key seats still up for grabs Of the 13 new regions being contested in the elections, just two were secured in Sunday’s first round of voting, while about a third of the 325 municipalities were locked in. The regions of Crete and the Southern Aegean both acquired governors backed by ruling PASOK, Stavros Arnaoutakis and Yiannis Machairidis respectively, the latter the former prefect of the Dodecanese Islands. The other 11 regions remained split, with PASOK leading in five of them and New Democracy in the other six. In the hotly contested Attica region, the contest was close. PASOK’s Yiannis Sgouros, who gained 24.06 percent of votes, is to run off against conservative New Democracy’s Vassilis Kikilias, who got 20.43 percent. Yiannis Dimaras, the PASOK dissenter who ran as an independent, bowed out with 15.96 percent of votes. In the other major region of Central Macedonia, Panayiotis Psomiadis, the Thessaloniki prefect, won the first round comfortably with 43.2 percent of votes. He is to face his PASOK rival Markos Bolaris, who amassed 30.68 percent of votes. In the first round, 104 mayors were elected, leaving another 221 municipalities, including Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, to be contested by 442 candidates on Sunday.