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ND Fails to Land Knockout Blow

Dora Bakoyianni is leading the New Democracy assault in the capital, but party stumbles on main Athens-Piraeus regional race

By Derek Gatopoulos, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission

NEW Democracy emerged the first-round winner of local government elections - sweeping cities and gaining regions - but failed to inflict fatal damage on the government and faced a challenge from a rightwing populist.

ND scored gains in cities and the farming areas of central Greece in the October 13 poll, claiming 11 prefectures (regional governments) with outright wins, against four won by Pasok.

Conservative candidates also led in most mayoral races, ahead of the municipal election runoffs this Sunday, October 20.

Dora Bakoyianni stayed on course to become Athens' first woman mayor, polling 47.4 percent, while Socialist Christos Papoutsis got 26 percent. Conservatives were also just shy of victory with Mayor Christos Agrapidis in Piraeus, while Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos was re-elected outright.

"It is clear (we) are the biggest political force in the country," New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis said after the October 13 vote. "The government refuses to accept this message. It is a hostage of its own arrogance." Added to ND's prize list were the prefecture of Thessaloniki and the umbrella prefecture of Drama-Kavala-Xanthi. In Attica, conservatives were elected mayors in Voula, Paleo Psychico and Pefki without a runoff.

Socialists, however, held their ground in many strongholds and even made a few surprise gains. Conservative celebrations were also muted by a setback in greater Athens, an area representing over two million voters. Socialist Fofi Yennimata took the lead with 40.1 percent in the race for the "super prefecture".

Second-placed Yiannis Tzannetakos (26.7 percent), backed by ND, suffered from a strong challenge by the rightwing maverick George Karatzaferis who garnered 13.6 percent. Karatzaferis, who runs a television station dedicated to his self-promotion, likened his performance to Andreas Papandreou's rise to power with the socialists in 1981.

The government, escaping with a relatively light bruising, appeared almost upbeat with the result.

"It is clear local government has become stronger and more independent... The results of Athens-Piraeus are very important and, clearly, Ms Yennimata has prevailed," Premier Costas Simitis said on election night. "The government always gets messages from elections. We will study the results."

The following day, government spokesman Christos Protopappas added: "New Democracy tried to use these elections as a level to topple the government. They have failed."

Small parties fielded candidates in a variety of political alliances to get a crack at public office, a strategy that favoured the Left Coalition (Synaspismos). That party had Pasok backing to win one of Greece's three "super prefectures", with Christos Hatzopoulos as the new regional governor of the Evros-Rodopi border region.

The smaller the race, the more exciting the contest. Yiannis Drakakis held the first-round record, as the people of Lefki, a village in eastern Crete, gave him 84 percent of the vote. In Kozani, cousins Makis and Costas Tzioumaris were tied in the village of Vlasti with 477 votes each and may have to toss a coin for the decider if a ballot recount fails to change the tally. Fearless voters in Tsaritsani, near Larissa in central Greece, were pelted with tomatoes after defying a local boycott of the poll to protest merging with the adjacent village.

And conservative Stephanos Apostolou made history on the island of Lesvos. He became the first non-communist mayor to be elected by Mandamados, a tiny hotbed of radical leftwingers, once dubbed "mini-Moscow".