New Democracy goes local

The government’s proposal that mayors and local officials be elected in the first round of polling if they reach 42 percent of the vote came like a bolt from the blue, even though it had been part of New Democracy’s policy agenda. Much has been written for and against the reform, proposed by Vangelis Meimarakis, ND’s general secretary. But the conservatives’ motive is clear: to strengthen ND’s hand over local administrations. Inevitably, Synaspismos Left Coalition and the Communists (KKE) have in the past been forced to cooperate on the issue with the mainstream parties. Over time, PASOK ceased to be their privileged partner. The Socialists’ long stay in power strained their relations and tactical alliances became ever more unlikely. Left-wing parties then increasingly joined hands with conservative candidates, increasing ND’s representation in local administration. PASOK’s return to opposition has opened the door to alliances between the so-called democratic factions. Local elections are traditionally seen as a chance to cast a protest vote against the ruling party, and the conservatives are keenly aware of that. If the 50 percent limit falls to 42 percent, many conservative candidates can win without depending on outside support. The new law will surely prompt Synaspismos and KKE to cooperate in the first round of elections in order to ensure a modicum of representation in the local administrations. But there are no easy solutions. Tactical alliances with right-wing candidates are out of the question. On the other hand, anti-PASOK sentiment also remains strong. A change in the electoral law will no doubt work in ND’s favor – at least in the October 2006 elections, given that resentment of the Socialists will still be smouldering by that point. ND has a good reason to move forward with the Meimarakis proposal.