Messages for two

The results of the second round of voting in municipal and regional elections brought no great surprises, confirming and reinforcing in many cases trends that appeared in the first round. Despite the government’s unfounded and hypocritical statements to the contrary, both parties handled the local administration elections in political terms, though the candidates’ personalities remained a significant element. So, political conclusions can safely be drawn. The first is that ND’s lead has been more firmly established. The opposition increased its influence throughout the rural population, even in areas where it had never dominated to such an extent; and it had spectacular wins in suburbs of Athens and Piraeus, which had been inaccessible to conservatives for more than half a century. ND’s massive penetration of hitherto impenetrable bastions of the left and center-left, in which PASOK eked out victory in neck-to-neck contests, will have a huge psychological impact in view of the 2004 parliamentary elections. On the other hand, ND did not achieve the crushing victory it hoped would rock the government. PASOK proved more resilient than expected, and so will continue to retain the initiative until the next elections, whatever disadvantages that entails for ND. The opposition must realize that attaining power requires more than inertly waiting to benefit from the Simitis government’s decline, and that it must attract voters through strategy, tactics and the creation of executive mechanisms for that purpose. Its weaknesses in this respect were glaringly apparent on Sunday. Giorgos Souflias’s divisive and partisan comments were diametrically opposed to the moderate statements ND leader Costas Karamanlis addressed to voters in general, who demand that the opposition party rally in order to gain power. The unsuccessful choice of Yiannis Tzannetakos as a candidate should not stop ND from broadening its approach to center-left voters, now that the extreme right is exerting pressure, while the disintegration of the electoral body of the left is creating a critical mass of swinging voters who can be influenced by the two major parties, but primarily by PASOK. Any political mistake now could prove fatal.