ND strengthens hand, but PASOK holds firm

Ruling PASOK and the conservative New Democracy party yesterday evaluated the results of the first round of voting in municipal and regional elections and planned strategies to help their candidates who have to contest a runoff vote on Sunday. The government, which had been hoping for a «manageable» loss, greeted the results of Sunday’s voting with relief, even though New Democracy held the country’s three major cities and also appeared to make gains across the country. PASOK had taken the fight to the conservatives in the combined Athens-Piraeus prefecture, which is home to about a quarter of the country’s population, and appeared ready to wrest it from New Democracy in the second round. With 96.89 percent of the vote counted, PASOK’s Fofi Yennimata had 40.1 percent, followed by New Democracy’s candidate, Yiannis Tzannetakos, with 26.7 percent and extreme-right LAOS party leader Giorgos Karadzaferis with 13.6 percent. New Democracy won Thessaloniki in the first round, with Vassilis Papageorgopoulos winning 54.2 percent. In Athens, ND’s Dora Bakoyianni got 47.4 percent, followed by PASOK’s Christos Papoutsis with 25.9 percent, while in Piraeus ND’s Christos Agrapidis got 47.4 percent to the 31.3 percent of PASOK’s Manolis Bedeniotis. In 1998, ND candidate Dimitris Avramopoulos won 57.7 percent in the first round. Results in the 54 prefectures, three «super-prefectures» and 1,033 municipalities were still not clear. New Democracy appeared to have made gains across the country, but there was enough give and take between the two major parties to rule out the sense of a landslide by the opposition similar to that of the 1998 local elections. PASOK counted its gains in Yennimata’s huge lead over Tzannetakos, in the fact that Papoutsis had forced Bakoyianni into a runoff vote, that PASOK appeared to maintain its strength across the country (except for notable losses in Central Macedonia, Thessaly and Ioannina) and, fourthly, that PASOK seemed to be strong in large municipalities in the Attica region, such as Halandri, Nea Ionia and Peristeri, which had seemed to be lost. New Democracy had raised the bar high for itself, calling on voters to «Send a message» to the government, turning the local elections into a referendum. The result in Athens-Piraeus then clouded ND’s gains elsewhere. Yesterday, ND was trying to woo the same voters of left-of-center candidates that PASOK was angling for. Prime Minister Costas Simitis said, «The results of the Athens-Piraeus super-prefecture have a decisive significance for all political forces… ND must think clearly and evaluate its policies and their consequences,» he said. But, he added, «every election has a message for the government. The government will evaluate this.» ND leader Costas Karamanlis said, «New Democracy is today the biggest political force in the country,» adding, «the government has been defeated across Greece.» Give and take blurs line between gains and losses The gains and losses in the battle for the country’s 54 prefectures and the three combined «super-prefectures» of Athens-Piraeus, Evros-Rhodope and Drama-Kavala-Xanthi have helped create the confusing message that PASOK did not lose while New Democracy did not win. After the second round of voting next Sunday, New Democracy is expected to have won a total of 25 provincial governments, from the 23 that it won in 1998, while PASOK is expected to get between 18 and 23, from the 22 it won in 1998. But because PASOK is expected to carry the combined Athens-Piraeus prefecture, the boundary between «winner» and «loser» is blurred. New Democracy is ahead in that it has already won 11 provincial governments outright in the first round of voting. These are Thessaloniki, Eastern Attica, Magnisia, Pieria, Kastoria, Evrytania, Aitoloakarnania, Corinth, Messinia, Fthiotida and the Drama-Kavala-Xanthi super-prefecture. It is also expected to keep Arta, Zakynthos, Karditsa, Laconia, Larissa, Preveza, Serres, Trikala, Florina, Halkidiki and Kilkis and to win Ioannina, Lefkada and Fokida which (along with Thessaloniki, Magnisia and Corinth) it did not have in 1998. On the other hand, New Democracy is expected to lose Viotia, Evia, Samos, Chios and the Athens-Piraeus super-prefecture, which it held until these elections. PASOK, on the other hand, is expected to maintain its control of Iraklion, Rethymnon, Lasithi, the Cyclades, Elis, Achaia, Cephalonia, Corfu, Thesprotia, Western Attica, Kozani and the Evros-Rhodope super-prefecture. It is also expected to gain the Dodecanese, Chios, Samos, Evia, Viotia and Athens-Piraeus while losing Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Larissa, Trikala, Corinth, Fokida, Lefkada and Magnisia. The battle over the provinces of Pella, Lesvos, Arcadia, Imathia and Argos is still too close to call.