Greece’s ruling conservatives suffer setbacks in regional, municipal elections

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s ruling New Democracy party suffered a setback in Sunday’s runoff elections for regional governors and mayors, losing the country’s two largest cities and five of the six regional contests.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had explicitly said that his goal was to win all 13 regions plus the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Piraeus, “13 plus 3,” as he said.

The results of the first round, last Sunday, appeared to consolidate New Democracy’s political dominance, already expressed in the double national election, last May and June. Its endorsed candidates won all seven regions whose result was decided in the first round, as well as Piraeus. This included two cases, Piraeus and the region of Crete, where New Democracy decided to hitch itself on the bandwagon of the incumbents, whom it had opposed in the previous local elections in 2019.

But on Sunday, voters, at least those that bothered to turn out, inflicted a reality check on New Democracy’s triumphalism.

“It was not an especially good night for New Democracy,” Mitsotakis acknowledged Sunday night. But he went on to say that this had become apparent in the Oct. 8 first round, a contrast to his optimistic, if not triumphalist, statements back then.

The result that probably stung the most was in the capital Athens, where a socialist-backed academic and political neophyte, Haris Doukas, beat incumbent Kostas Bakoyannis, with nearly 56% of the vote. That was a massive upset, considering that Bakoyannis had scored over 41% in the first round, a little short of the 43% threshold required for an outright victory, to Doukas’ 14%. Bakoyannis is Mitsotakis’ nephew; his mother, Dora Bakoyannis, a New Democracy lawmaker and former minister, was mayor of Athens from 2003 to 2007.

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Sunday’s turnout in Athens was even lower than in the first round: just 26.7% of eligible voters showed up, compared to last Sunday’s 32.3%.

Turnout around the country was 40.7% for the 84 municipal contests and 35.1 % for the six regionals. In the first round of Oct. 8, turnout in both types of contests had been 52.5%.

Another significant result was the region of Thessaly, where New Democracy-backed incumbent governor, Kostas Agorastos, lost 40% to 60%, to Dimitris Kouretas, backed by both the socialist PASOK and left-wing Syriza parties. Before disastrous floods hit the region in September, Agorastos was considered a shoo-in for a fourth consecutive term. Sunday’s result was a disavowal of his, and the central government’s mismanagent of the emergency. Premier Mitsotakis had campaigned for Agorastos in the final days before the runoff.

In the city of Thessaloniki, socialist Stelios Angeloudis, who was not his party’s official candidate, because of fighting among local party officials, easily defeated incumbent Konstantinos Zervas, 67% to 33%.

Besides Thessaly, New Democracy lost four other regional contests to conservative dissidents, only one of whom was the incumbent. The ruling party’s sole victory Sunday came in the Peloponnese.

But New Democracy won the country’s two most populous regions, Attica and Central Macedonia, in the first round.

New Democracy is still by far the largest party, with Syriza and PASOK far behind, battling for supremacy on the center-left and, so far, showing little willingness to band together to challenge the conservatives.

While the government does not face national elections until 2027, next year’s elections for the European Parliament, on June 9, will be the next major test of its popularity.

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