New Democracy members around the country will vote on Sunday, November 29, for a new party leader in a hotly contested race that has caused a significant rift within the opposition party.
Ex-Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and former Culture Minister Antonis Samaras will fight it out for the ND presidency but the third candidate, Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis, could end up playing a vital role if the election goes to a second round.
Ever since outgoing party leader and former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced on the night of the October 4 general elections that he would be stepping down following a crushing 10-percent defeat by PASOK, Bakoyannis and Samaras have been the most likely candidates to take over.
Early in the campaign, former Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos also declared his candidacy but eventually stepped aside and declared in favor of Samaras.
Avramopoulos’s move into the Samaras camp underlined just how much the contest has split the conservatives. Bakoyannis and Samaras are old adversaries and in many ways both are divisive figures within the party. There has been bad blood between the two since Samaras left the conservative government of Constantine Mitsotakis, Bakoyannis’s father, in the early 1990s. This led to its downfall and apart from Bakoyannis there are many others within the party who are not willing to forgive Samaras.
However, there is also a grouping within ND that was upset with Mitsotakis’s style of governing and does not want to see his daughter in charge, preferring a break with the past. Samaras has played on this theme during his campaign, often referring to “mechanisms” within the party favoring his rival.
Bakoyannis has hit back at Samaras over his decision to quit ND. “All my political life has been spent in New Democracy, I had no breaks or pauses,” said Bakoyannis.
During an extraordinary party congress on November 7 and 8, Samaras and Bakoyannis also set out different visions for the party. Samaras said it needs to be grounded in its right-wing beliefs but Bakoyannis suggested it must have a broader appeal in order to attract the middle-ground voters who usually decide election results.
She accused Samaras of sticking to an ideology that would marginalize the party.
“I am not promoting isolation,” he responded. “I am trying to extend our influence everywhere. We will not let ND be shifted or genetically modified.”
The supporters of the two camps have been involved in increasingly hostile exchanges, which have caused many conservatives to fear for the party’s unity following the election of a new leader.
The process by which the new ND president will be elected also proved to be a source of disagreement. After much arguing, it was agreed that all party members, including those that sign up on the actual voting day, would be able to cast a ballot.
As a result, it has been difficult for pollsters to predict the outcome of Sunday’s vote. Since Avramopoulos joined the Samaras campaign, the ex-Culture Minister has taken the lead in opinion polls. A survey of more than 1,000 people by Public Issue for Sunday’s Kathimerini suggested that Samaras would win the first round but would not gain the 50 percent needed to prevent a second round. In the likely case of a second round, Psomiadis would drop out and Samaras would run off against Bakoyannis. Psomiadis insists he will not tell his supporters who to vote for.
Public Issue’s poll shows Samaras winning this contest as well. However, pollsters point out that only about a third of respondents are ND supporters and of those not all will vote. Also, there may be many new members who sign up at the last minute, making it very difficult to predict the outcome.