June 2, 2019 / 12:37 PM / 15 days ago

Opposition conservatives prevail in Greek local election runoffs

ATHENS (Reuters) - Local elections in Greece on Sunday saw the conservative opposition party making further gains against the ruling Syriza ahead of an expected general election next month, initial results indicated.

Newly elected mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis waves to his supporters, at his election kiosk in Athens, Greece, June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party suffered its first major defeat in years to the conservative New Democracy party in last Sunday’s European Parliament vote, prompting him to say he would call an early election.

The snap election is expected to take place on July 7.

On Sunday, the seats of the mayor of Athens and the district governor for the wider Athens area were the top prizes up for grabs in the runoffs of local elections.

Results showed New Democracy candidates winning both seats, handing the conservatives another boost before Greeks return to vote in the expected election next month.

The Athens mayor seat is expected to be won by New Democracy’s Kostas Bakoyannis, who got 65% of the vote, a 30 point lead over his nearest rival, with 98% of the vote counted.

Conservative candidate George Patoulis also led his closest rival from Syriza in the district of the wider Athens area. With 96% of the vote counted, Patoulis had 66% against 34% for the incumbent local governor.

In last Sunday’s European Parliament vote, Syriza trailed New Democracy by about 10 points. New Democracy on the same day also won five out of six regions in the first round of local elections across the country for a prefect, or district governor.

Results on Sunday pointed to it winning another six out of a total 13 districts in different parts of Greece in the second round.

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 euro zone.

Greece emerged from the close supervision of lenders in August 2018. The government last month introduced tax cuts and pension payouts, going some way toward 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.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, editing by Deepa Babington and Susan Fenton

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