Greece: Radical left Syriza party fares well in local elections
Greece's leftist Syriza party performed strongly in key races in the first round of local elections today, as voters poured out their anger at the government's austerity policies.
The vote, along with European Parliament elections a week later, is being closely watched as a gauge of sentiment towards the coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which came to power two years ago and holds just a two-seat majority in parliament.
Official projections showed Syriza making the run-off in the race for mayor of symbolically important Athens. It also led in the wider Attica region, which includes just under a third of Greece's population.
"There is a new trend in favour of anti-establishment parties," political analyst John Loulis said. "... Although people don't trust Syriza yet, they are willing to experiment."
Syriza's candidate for Athens, 33-year-old economist Gabriel Sakellaridis, was less than 1 percentage point behind the incumbent, leftist-backed George Kaminis, with 21 percent of the vote, according to the official projection by Singular Logic.
Syriza's Rena Dourou was set to win the first-round race for prefect - similar to state governor - in Attica, with nearly 24 percent of the vote.
If either Syriza candidate wins the run-off next week, it would be the first time a far-left party has won either post, which have been bastions of support for Samaras's New Democracy party and his Socialist coalition partner PASOK.
Samaras's New Democracy appeared to gain in other regions previously controlled by its coalition partner PASOK, which looked set to retain the lead in only two regions, compared with the eight it controls now, according to early results.
Samaras said the results were "positive" for New Democracy and urged Greeks to vote for "stability" next week.
"The following Sunday we have the battle of the EU elections. A battle where Greece needs to show that it has the stability it deserves and won with sacrifices", he said.
"It's up to Greeks, either to contribute with their vote to ensure that Greek people feel the certainty that we will move ahead steadily, or let the country slide back."
Independents led in two other key mayoral races: in Greece's second city, Thessaloniki, where leftist-backed incumbent Yannis Boutaris took over 35 percent of the vote, and in the port town of Piraeus, where a candidate backed by a prominent ship-owner was set to win the first round.