No Clear Winner in First Round of Greek Local Elections

The first round of local and regional elections in Greece ended yesterday with no single party securing enough support to declare a decisive victory.

“Personalities won over political parties, as independent candidates are ahead in three of the country’s largest cities,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens-based think tank. “The results show the fragmentation of Greece’s political landscape,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.

While candidates backed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party are ahead in eight of Greece’s 13 administrative regions, with 99.6 percent of the vote counted, independent candidates lead in the country’s two largest cities, as well as in the regions of Central Macedonia, Western Greece and Crete.

In the capital Athens and its wider metropolitan region of Attica, which together have 3.8 million inhabitants, New Democracy candidates failed to make it through to a second round of voting on May 25.

A New Democracy-backed candidate in the region of Epirus is the only one so far to have secured more than 50 percent of the vote required to win in the first round of regional elections. In the remaining 12 regions, the top two candidates proceed to a second round May 25 along with elections for the European Parliament.

Golden Dawn

Nationalist Golden Dawn candidate Ilias Kasidiaris got 16 percent of the vote in Athens, placing fourth, with the party’s support more than tripling compared with the previous regional elections in 2010, when currently imprisoned party leader Nikos Michaloliakos got 5.3 percent. Six of 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers, including party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, are in prison pending trial for alleged criminal activity. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Main opposition Syriza party, which is leading in opinion polls for the European Union vote, failed to make significant inroads in yesterday’s ballot. “There is no clear momentum for Syriza,” Tsoukalis said.

Syriza candidates made it to the second round in four of the country’s regions, and the party leads in Attica, where more than half of Greece’s economic output is produced. While exit polls initially showed Syriza’s candidate leading in the city of Athens, the final result placed incumbent independent mayor George Kaminis in first position.

Targeting Austerity

Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras has billed the European vote as a “referendum” as he seeks support for plans to scrap austerity measures attached to the country’s 240 billion-euro ($329 million) international bailout. Rejection of the loan conditions may result in Greece’s troika of lenders, representing the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, pulling the plug on emergency support for the country.

A decisive victory for Syriza in the European ballot could see Samaras’s two-seat coalition majority in parliament come under threat, as the leftist opposition may become more vocal in its demand for early national elections which are next scheduled for 2016.

“Greece must show it has the stability it deserves, which is in the hands of the people, and their vote” Samaras said in comments televised live following yesterday’s vote. “Either we go forward with stable steps, or we let the country go backwards,” he told reporters.

Market Volatility

“Elections for municipalities, regions and Euro elections have increased significantly market volatility which is expected to prevail for another week,” said Alexandros Maglaras, who helps oversee 300 million euros at Triton Asset Management, an Athens-based mutual fund.

“The political interpretation of the coming election results affects the market as it potentially affects Greek political stability” Maglaras said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday.

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