Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government hopes of holding off a challenge from the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in the May 18 first round elections for Greek municipalities got an early shock when exit polls showed the Leftists ahead in the Athens area.
SYRIZA’s candidates for Athens mayor and regional governor in greater Athens were ahead in the race against the incumbent socialist office-holders, the televised polls showed, also indicating greater support than expected for the Greece ‘s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, all of whose 18 Members of Parliament have been arrested or jailed pending trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
In Athens, SYRIZA’s candidate for Mayor, Gavriil Sakellaridis showed a range of 20-24 percent, ahead of incumbent George Kaminis, an Independent who has the backing of the PASOK Socialists and Democratic Left (DIMAR) at 19-23 percent.
They were ahead of the ruling New Democracy candidate Aris Spiliotopoulos at 15-19 percent and Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who was polling far stronger than surveys showed he would do, with 14-17 percent.
In the Attica prefecture, SYRIZA’s Rena Dourou was running a strong 27-31 percent to have a big lead over a PASOK incumbent, Yiannis Sgouros, at 7 percent, showing the level of disaffection with the Socialists for backing austerity measures as a partner in Samaras’ government.
If the numbers hold up, it would be a stunning blow to Samaras, who was counting on winning the local elections a week ahead of those for the European Parliament which show SYRIZA holding a lead over New Democracy.
Early returns more than 3 1/2 hours after polls closed at 7 p.m. Athens time showed a narrowing of the lead in some races, setting up a second round run-off on May 25 between the two top candidates in the contests.
PASOK has tied itself to the new center-left political movement Elia, Olive Tree, in a desperate bid to keep from finishing near the bottom, which could bring a challenge to the Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who is serving as Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister.
He warned if PASOK fares poorly that it could even undermine the government and force snap elections before its term runs out in 2016. If that happens, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has predicted he will win.
If so, he said he would seek to revise the terms of two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which demanded and got big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings in return.
Tsipras said the elections are a referendum on the conditions for the loans, most of which run out this year and are all that’s keeping the government from going broke and likely forcing Greece out of the Eurozone of the 18 countries using the euro.