Showdown Sunday: Samaras, Tsipras Set Elections Battle Plans



It's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (L) against SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras
It’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (L) against SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras

Battle lines are being drawn for the Sunday, May 25 second round of Greek local elections, and for the European Parliament, which will mostly pit Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives against the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).

After mixed results in the first round on May 18, with SYRIZA doing well in Athens and the populus Attica region, and New Democracy faring better in smaller cities and towns around the country, candidates who didn’t get a majority will square off for municipal offices, while votes will also choose Greece’s representatives in Brussels.

With a lot at stake – including whether SYRIZA can win big enough to undermine the coalition government of New Democracy and its partner, the fast-fading PASOK Socialists – strategies are being set and some unlikely alliances being made – the New Democracy Mayor of Piraeus is asking for Leftist votes after finishing second in the first round and complaining of death threats.

New Democracy is backing incumbent Athens Mayor George Kaminis – an Independent who is being supported by PASOK, the Democratic Left (DIMAR), the ecologists and leftist forces who are the ideological enemies of the Conservatives.

New Democracy is trying to prevent SYRIZA’s young candidate, Gavriil Sakellaridis, who finished second, from beating Kaminis, with politics again creating odd bed fellows. Samaras’ hand-picked New Democracy candidate, Aris Spiliotopoulos, finished third, just ahead of the neo-Nazi candidate Ilias Kasidiaris.

Spiliotopoulos was undercut when another New Democracy lawmaker and the previous mayor of Athens, Nikitas Kaklamanis, angry he wasn’t the party’s pick, ran anyway, siphoning off critical votes and splitting the party.

New Democracy is also backing incumbent Attica Governor Yiannis Sgouros, a Socialist, against SYRIZA’s Rena Dourou, after the Conservatives were knocked out of that battle too and threw their weight behind their coalition partner’s candidate.

But even that plan was said to have run into trouble with reported bickering between the Conservatives and the incumbents they are backing.

New Democracy, trailing in the European Parliament ballot which SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said would be a referendum on the crushing austerity measures the government has imposed on orders of international lenders, is also believed to be banking on the help of the center-left against SYRIZA candidates in key regions such as the Peloponnese and the Ionian islands.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos has even backed New Democracy candidates, praising the Conservatives skupport for Kaminis and Sgouros, which he said was a reaction to “the political offensive of Tsipras and SYRIZA.” PASOK has tied itself to the center-left political alliance Elia (Olive Tree) in a desperate bid to keep from disappearing.

Samaras has also reportedly pleaded with former Premier and previous Conservative leader Costas Karamanlis, who has been almost invisible since being defeated by PASOK in 2009, to come out and show support for the party, although it was unclear whether he would.

Samaras is also reportedly leaning toward asking one of his lawmaker, former Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyiannis – who he defeated for the party leadership in a bitter battle, leading her to leave only to return – to take a role in the campaign. She has largely been ignored since coming back to the party although her family is one of the country’s political dynasties.

ND and PASOK officials were also said to be discussing possible cross-party alliances on a local level to boost candidates supported by both ND and the PASOK-backed Olive Tree alliance.

SYRIZA, looking for a knock-out blow in the European elections, is also looking for alliances and reaching out to other groups opposed to the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings Samaras and PASOK put on Greeks to to get 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).

SYRIZA’s overture, the newspaper Kathimerini said, even includes reaching out to voters for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which it is ideological enemy and political rival. The extremists’ leaders and 18 lawmakers have been arrested or jailed on charges of running a criminal gang but remain a political force in the country.

New Democracy, which gets taxpayer monies to campaign, poured it into TV ads praising itself for what the party said was a looming recovery from an economic crisis the Conservatives and Socialists created with decades of wild overspending and rampant patronage.

The uplifting ads, with burnished sunlight replacing gloomy clouds, also include those focusingt on promising sectors such as tourism and agriculture as well as potential investments, and saying it is the party of stability, despite ongoing record joblessness and poverty.

SYRIZA wants voters to repudiate the government and austerity with the slogan: “On the 25th we vote, on the 26th they go.”