Greece’s conservative opposition New Democracy party on Sunday (2 June) swept local elections, winning in nearly all regions and the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, routing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling left five weeks before they face off in general elections.
New Democracy candidates have won 12 of the country’s 13 regions, said party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, according to almost complete results.
Mitsotakis is Tsipras’s main rival in the 7 July snap parliamentary elections, called after New Democracy took 33% of the vote in last month’s European elections — nine points more than the ruling Syriza party.
In Athens, Mitsotakis’s nephew, ND mayoral candidate Costas Bakoyannis, won with 65% of the vote, according to results from 99 percent of polling stations.
The 41-year-old is the third generation of a political family. His mother Dora was the first woman mayor of Athens in 2003 and his grandfather was former prime minister Constantin Mitsotakis (1990-1993).
“Greece’s electoral map has changed in favour of the ND,” said political expert Ilias Nikolakopoulos on public television ERT.
Sunday’s vote was a second-round runoff for city mayors and regional governors.
In the first round of municipal and regional elections in May, New Democracy won five of Greece’s 13 regions, while the left took just one.
“Hope has returned, it is revenge… against the populism of Tsipras,” the opposition-leaning daily To Vima wrote in a front-page headline.
After the polls closed and the results started coming in, the ND leader turned to the upcoming legislative polls.
“If you support me in the crucial legislative elections, I will be on your side,” Mitsotakis said in a message of unity.
Tsipras, a leftist who has overseen austerity measures since the Greek debt crisis, said: “We are going to gather our forces for the battle of the legislative elections.”
Bakoyannis, a former provincial governor, captured the Athens mayor’s office from the left. He won 42% of the votes in the first round, beating his rival leftist Nassos Iliopoulos by more than 25 points.
“Today Athens is not simply changing mayors, the city is changing an era,” Bakoyannis predicted after voting on Sunday afternoon.
For the Attica province, which includes the Greek capital, conservative Yiorgos Patoulis, a former mayor, has been elected governor with 65% of the vote.
In Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki, independent conservative Apostolos Tzitzikostas already won in the first round by taking 62% of the vote.
Besides discontent with austerity measures and an 18% unemployment rate, observers attribute the conservative resurgence in part to a controversial renaming deal between Greece and its neighbour which is now called North Macedonia, formerly Macedonia.
Backed by Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, the deal ended a long-running dispute between the two countries.
The dispute dated back to North Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, when it declared that it wanted to be called Macedonia over the objections of Greece, which has a northern province by the same name.
The resolution of the deal meant Athens dropped its opposition to its neighbour’s bid to join the European Union, but the agreement has been denounced by nationalists in both countries.