On October 8th and 15th, the two rounds of the municipal and regional elections took place in Greece. SYRIZA entered this battle already wounded by its defeats in the double national elections a few months ago, even though local elections are considered a privileged field for the forces of the Left. At the same time, throughout its rise to power and its conversion into a governing party, SYRIZA has failed to establish itself in local communities, to build strong local municipal factions and to make a decisive impact in the field of local government. In other words, the results were expected in a negative light for SYRIZA, while confirming the dominance of New Democracy in the country’s political life. After all, New Democracy’s declared goal was to “turn all of Greece blue” and to have 13 out of 13 regional governors blue. This had been the case in the 2019 local elections, when New Democracy won every region except Crete and the North Aegean.
However, things did not turn out as New Democracy would have liked. In fact, there were major upheavals between the first and second rounds of the elections. Not only was New Democracy’s omnipotence not confirmed, but it also suffered a severe blow at the level of local politics, either through the victory of progressive candidates or through the victory of right-wing ‘rebels’.
Let’s start by saying that 322 municipalities and 13 regions are involved in Greek local elections. In the first round, the ruling party won 6 regions + 1 (Crete), which is mainly attributed to PASOK, as the candidate (and current regional governor) traditionally has PASOK’s nomination and simply received New Democracy’s support in these elections. It should be noted that an absolute majority is not achieved with 50% + 1 vote, but with 43% + 1 vote, the threshold with which the regional governors, as well as the mayors, were announced from the first Sunday. This remark is important for the voter turnout rate, which we will discuss below. New Democracy played all its cards to secure the largest number of regions between the first and second rounds. The main focus for the right-wing was the re-election of the regional governor of Thessaly, the area severely impacted by floods due to the evident lack of responsibility and to the incompetence of the regional governor and the central administration. Re-election of the incumbent governor would propagate their story of “unprecedented natural disasters” which we are be incapable of shielding ourselves from. In addition, direct threats were made to citizens at the municipal level: If the right-wing favourite were not elected, certain municipalities would face financial problems — We are talking about an inappropriate link between the central government and the local level, orchestrated by New Democracy, accompanied by threats from Minister of Development Adonis Georgiadis, regarding the release of funds from the NSRF (Enterprise Agreement for the Development Framework 2021-2027) to municipalities! This happened to the municipality of Chalandri, in Attica, where the incumbent mayor, supported by SYRIZA, had a high chance of winning another term — which eventually happened.
The second round brought significant changes to the previously predominantly blue map. New Democracy lost its bet. The left-wing and progressive forces secured victory in the three largest cities in Greece, namely Athens, Thessaloniki and Patra. An astonishing outcome occurred in the Municipality of Athens, as the incumbent mayor and New Democracy candidate, initially tipped as front-runner, was defeated. In the first round, he obtained 41% while his opponent received just 14%. However, the dynamics altered on the following Sunday. Haris Doukas, who had the support of PASOK, united all the progressive forces and emerged victorious by securing 56% of the city’s votes. It is worth noting that the local faction of SYRIZA officially endorsed Doukas in the second round. It is also reasonable to assume that he received support from KKE voters and the extraparliamentary left. Additionally, it could be assumed that some voters who refrained from voting on October 8 were motivated to participate on the 15th as they perceived an opportunity to oust the mayor belonging to the right-wing faction. The progressive forces (SYRIZA’s & PASOK’s co-support in Athens & Thessaloniki, KKE’s candidate in Patra) won important municipalities. But the result was not the same in the regions. The assessment of the outcome of the conflict must be strictly factual: the claim that “progressive forces won” must be supported by objective evidence. New Democracy lost in 5 of the 6 regions that went to the second round, although it can be argued that only Thessaly was won by a progressive candidate. The remaining four regional governors are independent right-wingers, known as “blue rebels” for having belonged to New Democracy before splitting off. Nonetheless, New Democracy’s defeat is significant because it marks a remarkable event: it’s the first time since the 2019 elections (European, municipal and regional) that the party has suffered such heavy losses and caused a crack in the wall of the right-wing hegemony. For the progressive factions, the battle of Thessaly was of paramount importance, as it undermined the right-wing narrative of “inevitable natural disasters” with the triumph of the progressive candidate.
Taking a closer look at the other political actors, as mentioned above, SYRIZA expected to do poorly itself in this election. The party of the primary opposition won 3 municipalities with a clear party nomination, and 4 more with a candidate co-supported by PASOK. Overall, PASOK actually winning the second place on this electoral map was not expected to such an extent. In these local elections, PASOK emerged as the primary opposition. It is known, however, that PASOK has been proficient in building local organisations and establishing roots within local communities and networks. This, combined with the failure of SYRIZA’s strategy in the previous general elections, brought PASOK to prominence. Again, to be precise, in the 2023 regional elections, PASOK’s relative aggregated electoral power increased from 11.6% to 11.9% (while SYRIZA’s decreased from 19.4% to 12.7%). The Communist Party (KKE) unquestionably emerged as one of the victors of the local elections. This was not only due to its rise in overall strength from 6.9% to 10.1% in percentage terms, but also because it was the sole party to have been substantially strengthened with an additional 110,000 votes despite widespread abstention. Additionally, the party won 6 municipalities with a clear party nomination. This outcome clearly indicates the inclination of left-wing voters who were unable to voice their preference through SYRIZA.
Having discussed the election outcomes extensively, it is crucial to draw attention to the significant voter abstention rate in this election. For the regional elections, the voter participation rate was 52% in the first round, compared to the 58% recorded in 2019. In the second round, it decreased to 35% from 42% in 2019. For the municipal elections, there was a 52.5% turnout in the first round. This is a decrease from the 59% turnout in the previous term’s first round and a 41% turnout in the second round, which was also lower than the 45% recorded in 2019. The highest rates of abstention were recorded in large urban centres, with the Municipality of Athens serving as the most embarrassing demonstration (32% participation in the 1st round, 27% in the 2nd). It is worth noting that Haris Doukas was elected with 64,000 votes out of 450,000 registered voters. Of course, this does not come out of nowhere. On one hand, the New Democracy’s electoral law, which allowed a majority with only 43%, has led to a lack of credibility in the democratic processes. Apart from that, there was no discussion about local politics during the election campaign, neither on the municipal nor on the regional level. Relevant topics such as public spaces, housing and waste management have remained obscured. The left forces also bear some responsibility for this, which benefits a right wing that had relied on public relations, networking (especially in the cases of small communities of the countryside) and fund allocation.
In conclusion, the election results have had a positive impact, due to New Democracy’s defeats and the triumphs of progressive candidates in key municipalities as well as in the wounded region of Thessaly. Nonetheless, the level of local government in Greece remains closely dependent on the central administration and the discussion of major local problems that need to be solved with autonomy is constantly avoided. The increasing centralisation of power and political control by the central government undermines citizen engagement and faith to local government. Last but not least, the feminisation of politics would be a boost to citizen participation and optimism about the community level of government. The figures may come as a surprise, with only 21 female mayors in 322 municipalities and 13 male governors in 13 regions. However, this topic appears to be overlooked in the public debate.
 Data presented by Angelos Seriatos, https://www.efsyn.gr/ellada/koinonia/408156_i-megali-eikona-ta-minymata-kai-ta-proeidopoiitika-kampanakia-tis-kalpis, 17.10.23
 New Democracy’s bill of 2021 came to cancel the law of simple proportional representation of SYRIZA.