Sunday, November 07, 2010

Greek local elections national test for PM Papandreou

Yiannis Dimaras election poster Yiannis Dimaras used to be a ruling party MP - now he could win as an independent

Greeks have gone to the polls in crucial municipal elections.

The main political parties are describing them as a referendum on the socialist government's handling of the economic crisis.

The austerity measures the government has imposed in return for international help mean local issues take back seat.

Prime Minister George Papandreou has hinted strongly that he may call a general election if his party suffers big losses.

This is supposed to be an election to determine who runs the recently enlarged and supposedly more streamlined local authorities.

But instead of parochial matters, the issue which dominates this election is Greece's economic crisis, and the austerity measures the government has been forced to impose in return for accepting the enormous international financial bail-out package.

Although the prime minister and his Pasok socialist party have a comfortable majority in parliament, Mr Papandreou has warned he may call a snap general election, three years before his term runs out, if his candidates get a drubbing.

Talk of what many observers believe would be a completely unnecessary election has unsettled the international markets.

They fear political instability would threaten the austerity programme, aimed at reducing the deficit and national debt, and that Greece would be more likely to default.

Protest votes

Mr Papandreou's decision about a general election could hinge on what happens in the race for the prefecture of Attica, the region surrounding Athens where almost half of Greece's population lives.

The Pasok candidate is expected to be defeated by an independent called Yiannis Dimaras.

George Papandreou (file picture) Papandreou says he wants to be sure he has popular support

He used to be an MP for the ruling party but was expelled by Mr Papandreou after he voted against the International Monetary Fund rescue deal.

Mr Dimaras is expected to draw protest votes from people who would normally support the ruling socialists, but who are angry about tax rises and cuts in wages and pensions.

Antonis Samaras, the leader of the main opposition Conservative party, claims Mr Papandreou wants a general election because he can't cope with the stress of leading the country through the economic crisis.

But the prime minister says he needs to be sure that the Greek people are behind him.

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