PASOK gets regional upper hand

PASOK looked set to win the majority of regional governorships following the second round of local elections yesterday, which proved memorable for the unexpected victory of independent candidate Giorgos Kaminis in the City of Athens and the extremely low turnout, as less than one in two Greeks cast their ballot. With the majority of votes counted late last night, PASOK or PASOK-backed independent candidates led in six of the 11 newly created regions being contested. The Socialists secured control of two governorships in the first round. The differences were very close in several regions, including the Ionian Islands, where New Democracy’s candidate led by 0.1 percent, underlining the less-than-convincing performance by the conservatives, who campaigned on a platform of opposition to the EU-IMF memorandum. Premier George Papandreou said the results were a vote of support for his government. «Citizens have asked for political and social stability,» he said. «They rejected the sirens of destabilization.» The premier called on all parties to «assume responsibility» as Greece tries to overcome its economic problems. He pledged the government would adopt «major reforms that will help Greece breathe» following this year’s austerity measures. Despite PASOK’s success on a regional level, the most notable victory of the night came in Athens where Giorgos Kaminis, the former Ombudsman and a newcomer to politics, defeated the previous, ND-backed Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis. Kaminis, who was supported by PASOK and Democratic Left, was heading for a 4 to 5 percent victory, which had seemed improbable when he announced his candidacy in September. «This is a victory for the citizens of Athens that hope and participate,» he told a large crowd of supporters. Kaminis will be the first mayor of Athens since 1986 who is not supported by ND. The capital provided PASOK with another boost as its candidate for Attica governor, Yiannis Sgouros, beat conservative hopeful Vassilis Kikilias fairly comfortably. ND drew comfort from the victory of its candidate Vassilis Michaloliakos in Piraeus and conservative Panayiotis Psomiadis’s dominant performance in Central Macedonia, Greece’s second-largest region. The mayorship race for Thessaloniki, between independent Yiannis Boutaris, supported by PASOK, and ND’s Costas Gioulekas, was too tight to call at the time of going to press. The other major factor in yesterday’s election was the low voter participation. Earlier in the day, President Karolos Papoulias had urged Greeks to get out and vote. «Democracy was established thanks to great struggles and widespread participation,» he said. «Today, democracy needs new struggles. You can’t sit on your sofa and speak of struggles.» However, the president’s words appeared to have had little effect as the abstention rate looked set to reach record levels. With two-thirds of votes counted, overall voter turnout was at about 47 percent, compared to 61 percent in the first round last Sunday. The significance of these election results is set to be overtaken this week by concerns about the Greek economy. EU statistics agency Eurostat is to announce today the revised figure for Greece’s 2009 deficit, which is expected to rise from 13.8 percent of gross domestic product to about 15.5 percent. This will come as representatives of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund visit Athens to decide whether Greece should receive a third 9-billion-euro tranche of its emergency loan package. Also, the government is due on Thursday to table its 2011 national budget in Parliament.