Following mixed results – losses in Attica and Athens and wins across other municipalities around the country – Prime Minister and New Democracy conservative leader Antonis Samaras is asking Greek voters to support his coalition government as it heads into the second round run-offs and elections for the European Parliament on May 25.
Samaras and his coalition partner the PASOK socialists touted where they did well in other regions and asked for voters to support what they called their government of recovery heading into the second round run-offs and for the EU elections, while the main opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) said results showed it would walk away with some critical victories.
Samaras asked voters to show that “Greece has the stability it deserves” in the EU elections, where polls show SYRIZA opening a lead. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said he believes the ruling parties will be so repudiated that it will force national elections before the government’s term runs out in 2016.
SYRIZA was banking on its opposition to the harsh austerity measures the government imposed in return for 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) beginning in 2010.
But some exit polls showing SYRIZA would have bigger margins in key races proved wrong, setting the stage for critical face-offs on May 25 for local offices. New Democracy and PASOK dominated outside the most populous area of Athens and Attica where the Leftists fared better.
Tsipras said he wanted the elections to be a referendum on the memorandum with the Troika and the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that came with the rescue packages and asked voters to reject the government’s policies.
Samaras, trying to spin losses in the country’s most important voter based, countered. “It is in Greeks’ hands to either contribute to there being certainty that we will progress with steady steps or to let the country slide backwards,” he said after results came in.
His party performed poorly in Greece’s main municipalities (Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki) and its two biggest regions (Attica and Central Macedonia) but led in nine of the 13 regions across the country going into the second round.
The newspaper Kathimerini, citing unnamed sources, denied that Samaras considered suggesting snap elections after seeing New Democracy failing to get a candidate into the second round of voting in Athens municipality for the first time in its history and seeing SYRIZA’s Rena Dourou edging ahead in Attica, where around one-third of Greek voters are based.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos claimed that SYRIZA’s strategy of trying to turn local and European Parliament elections into a referendum on the government failed.
He accused SYRIZA of making “narrow party political choices that failed on a national level” after the leftist party only managed to get two of its candidates for regional governorships into the second round of voting, although SYRIZA’s aim is to win big at the EU level.
PASOK, which tied itself to the new center-left Elia, Olive Tree, alliance, got eight candidates it backed at a regional level making it into the second round. It also backed Thessaloniki mayor Yiannis Boutaris and his Athens counterpart Giorgos Kaminis, an Independent, also came out on top in their cities, who came out on top in the first round.
Tsipras called on Greeks to turn the European Parliament elections into a referendum on the country’s coalition government after the leftists made breakthrough in the City of Athens and region of Attica in the first round of voting in local elections.
“The European elections will be a referendum on the [EU-IMF] memorandum,” he said, citing SYRIZA’s achievements in the capital.
“There is no historical precedent for the governing party not making it into the second round of voting in the country’s biggest region and biggest municipality,” he said.
SYRIZA was buoyed by Rena Dourou’s unexpected victory in Attica over incumbent Yiannis Sgouros. With almost all the votes counted, Dourou gained 23.8 percent of the vote and Sgouros, backed by PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR), 22.1 percent.
In SYRIZA’s Gavriil Sakellaridis, who jumped out to a lead in initial results, trailed Kaminis by a narrow margin of 21-20 percent, while Samaras’ hand-picked candidate, Aris Spiliotopoulos, faltered after he lost votes to another New Democracy candidate and former Athens Mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, who challenged his own party after being rejected by Samaras as its candidate.
New Democracy has said that it will support Kaminis and Sgouros, which will make the challenge for Dourou and Sakellaridis to win tougher, taking away some of their voter hopes. Golden Dawn’s candidate and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who, along with its other 17 members of parliament faces charges of running a criminal gang, didn’t make the run-off.
SYRIZA will expect to increase Dourou’s share of the vote as it won 30.6 percent of the ballots cast in the June 2012 elections in Attica but it remains to be seen if this can increase to above 50 percent.
SYRIZA expected to do better as it had targeted getting five candidates into the second round of voting for governorships but did so only in Attica and the Ionian Islands. The leftists, however, have a 4.7 percent lead over New Democracy in the EU elections according to a poll by Kapa Research.
An overlooked factor was that some 40 percent of Greeks didn’t vote at all, showing the level of disenfranchisement from politics and anger over austerity and the country’s political parties.