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How Rhodope County ended up without a Christian member of the Greek Parliament

27 September 2015 / 21:09:25  GRReporter
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The election of lawyer Ahmet Ilhan as MP from Potami in Rhodope County, and the failure of Evripidis Stylianidis' from New Democracy left the county without a Christian MP for the first time. This is what journalist Tassos Teloglou argues in his Kathimerini report. Yet none of the locals are surprised by this development. Stylianidis himself had said 14 months ago that it was very likely to be the case. According to critics from the local New Democracy organisation this result was facilitated by the low profile Stylianidis kept in the area during the election period.

But in reality Evripidis Stylianidis fell victim to the electoral law as had Ilhan himself back in 2007 – then, as in 2012, a candidate of New Democracy. They were together in New Democracy since 2004 as a result of Kostas Karamanlis' policy of 'modern European political equality'. Ilhan, with his 13,500 votes, was the first and the last New Democracy MP hailing from the Muslim minority in Rhodope county.

After the election of Antonis Samaras, Ilhan was a candidate of Dora Bakoyannis' Democratic Alliance, got 10,500 votes, and took second place in the county after PASOK, but failed to win a seat as his party could not make it into parliament. In 2012, he ran with the Democratic Left, but with more than 12,000 votes was again left out in the cold.

Ilhan was invited by Stavros Theodorakis in early August, which helped him launch his campaign ahead of the pack. What helps him most of all, however, is the support he enjoys from the minority community in Ariana, where he ranked first – and ahead of SYRIZA.

Ilhan has always wielded influence in the region, but would such a great hike in his numbers in that particular county be possible without the support of the Turkish consulate, however discreet it was?

He won't admit it, but observers have pointed out that the Turkish consulate tolerated him as it hadn't done in previous elections. "They must have thought Potami would collaborate with SYRIZA, and if there would be a SYRIZA MP anyway, why not get one more...". This interpretation of events is rather simplistic, since at least one of the two SYRIZA MPs (Moustafa Moustafa) has been unambiguously critical towards the consulate. As, incidentally, has Ilhan himself.

Ariana is a mountainous area of tobacco growers, who have links with the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Back in January 2015, SYRIZA took 7,921 votes (65%) in the county. Last Sunday, Potami got 4,878 votes (44%) and left SYRIZA behind with 4,427 votes (40%). As far as New Democracy is concerned, it doubled its gains from 5% last January to 10% on Sunday. SYRIZA activists from the area told Kathimerini that the shrinkage of their share is partly due to the role of the Independent Greeks, who had taken over the local Education Department and created "negative associations" among the minority.

A lawyer from the minority, who preferred to stay anonymous, told Kathimerini that the picture in the region is more complex. He also mentioned that another New Democracy MP, Alexandros Kondos (Xanthi county), had lost his seat in parliament. In Xanthi, SYRIZA won all three seats (with one Muslim and two Christian MPs).

As in Rhodope County, where Potami's percentage fell, albeit with less than in January, the election law worked miracles. It should be noted that according to representatives of all political forces, none of the parties, which have seats in any of the counties, have anything beyond remnants left from their party structures.

Tags: Rhodope MP Muslim Potami Ahmet Ilhan
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