Greece’s conservative opposition New Democracy (ND) party swept local elections on Sunday, winning in most regions and the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, routing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling left just a month before they face off in general elections.
New Democracy candidates have won 11 of the country’s 13 regions, according to provisional results, including Attica where the Greek capital is located.
ND mayoral candidate Kostas Bakoyannis was leading in Athens with 65 percent of the vote, according to provisional results after counting in half of the city’s polling centres.
The 41-year-old comes from an old political family and his mother Dora was elected Athens mayor in 2003.
“Greece’s electoral map has changed in favour of the ND,” said political expert Elias Nikolakopoulos on public television ERT.
The New Democracy party has repeated its performance in last month’s European elections when it took 33 percent of the vote – nine points more than the ruling Syriza party.
Tsipras, a socialist who has overseen austerity measures since the Greek debt crisis, has called parliamentary elections for July 7, three months earlier than scheduled.
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.
Tsipras had urged voters to choose the “mayors of progress”, calling Sunday’s vote crucial in a statement to reporters after voting in Kypseli, a working-class neighbourhood of Athens.
‘Changing an era’
Bakoyannis, a former provincial governor, captured the Athens mayor’s office from the left. He won 42 percent 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 capital, conservative Giorgos Patoulis, a former mayor, is also poised to win. In the first round he won 37.6 percent of the vote against his Syriza rival Rena Dourou with 19.7 percent.
In the Thessaloniki region, conservative Apostolos Tzitzikostas already won in the first round by taking 62 percent of the vote.
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.
Once a leftist firebrand, Tsipras, 44, came to power in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform but was forced into a painful new bailout months later to avoid Greece being thrown out of the Eurozone.
Greece emerged from the close supervision of lenders in August 2018. The government last month introduced tax cuts and pension payouts, going some way towards unwinding some of the austerity measures.
Some analysts have said the handouts may have averted a steeper defeat in the European election.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised tax cuts and attracting investments to help Greece grow faster after the country lost more than a quarter of its output during the crisis.