Greece’s local elections ended yesterday with the opposition New Democracy party holding on to the country’s major cities and appearing to gain control of even more prefectures than it did in 1998. But the ruling PASOK party, which had been afraid that an overwhelming loss in these elections would destroy its credibility, managed to score enough gains against the conservatives to be able to say that these were elections simply for local government and were not a referendum on the Socialists’ ability to govern. The government had been afraid of being forced into early national elections before they are due in early 2004. «The results confirm that New Democracy is today the strongest political force in the country,» its leader, Costas Karamanlis declared. Prime Minister Costas Simitis, however, stressed that the local elections were just that, elections for local government. «The elections are over. Let us look… also at the great issues which are directly related to the country’s present and future,» he said. He listed these as Cyprus’s EU accession, Greece’s «successful presidency of the EU» next year, economic development, promoting employment, reducing peripheral and social inequality and «highlighting the culture and modern capabilities of Greece and the Greeks with the Olympiad of 2004.» Yesterday at 10 p.m., election expert Ilias Nikolakopoulos said on Mega Channel television that it appeared New Democracy would win 30 prefectures (up from 27 in 1998), PASOK would win 20 (down from the 23 it had in cooperation with others), two would go to independents (in Rethymnon and Hania on Crete) and two were still too close to call (Imathia and Florina). New Democracy also romped home in Athens and Piraeus, holding on to them as it had Thessaloniki, in which its candidate won outright last Sunday by crossing the 50 percent threshold. With 25.77 percent of the vote counted, a leading member of New Democracy, Dora Bakoyianni, had 61.2 percent to her PASOK rival Christos Papoutsis’s 38.8 percent. In Piraeus, with 24.45 percent counted, ND incumbent Christos Agrapidis had 56.4 percent to the 43.6 percent of PASOK’s Manolis Bedeniotis. PASOK had managed to hold Bakoyianni to two rounds of voting for Athens, preventing her from repeating the first round landslide of her predecessor, Dimitris Avramopoulos, only to see her get the highest percentage the city has seen. But the point on which PASOK concentrated its campaign and where it managed to score a victory which, in public relations terms, it used to counterbalance its defeats, was the combined Athens-Piraeus «super-prefecture.» Here, with 22.25 percent of votes counted, PASOK’s Fofi Yennimata, a lightweight MP whose late father was a much-loved PASOK minister, had 53.1 percent, ahead of ND’s candidate, Yiannis Tzannetakos, a centrist who is not an ND member, with 46.9 percent. Tzannetakos, who was opposed by the Church and seriously hurt by extreme right candidate Giorgos Karadzaferis who won 13.6 percent in the first round. Exit polls showed that 65 percent of those who voted for Karadzaferis ignored his directions and voted for Tzannetakos. ND’s chief strategist, Giorgos Souflias, said the results translated into a 46.6 percent vote for ND nationwide and 40.6 percent for PASOK. Athens 2004, the ‘proudest’ city Dora Bakoyianni, a leading member of the New Democracy party and a serious contender for its leadership in the future, exulted yesterday in the unprecedented percentage with which she became not only the capital’s first woman mayor but also the mayor of Athens 2004. With 25.77 percent of votes counted, Bakoyianni had 61.2 percent to her PASOK rival Christos Papoutsis’s 38.8 percent. «We won the biggest victory that has ever been won in Athens,» she told supporters outside her electoral headquarters in Syntagma Square.«It is clear that the message is a message of renewal. A new day is dawning for local government. We will cooperate well. Together we will show that the city of Athens in the Olympiad is the proudest city in the world,» she said. «For me to reach 60 percent is an overwhelming responsibility… All together we will show that Greece can advance and will advance.» Bakoyianni was surrounded by her children, Alexia and Costas, her husband, Isidoros Kouvelos, and many supporters. They were joined by her father, former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, who flew in from Crete. «Our whole family is very proud of Dora for her great, personal victory,» he said.