ATHENS, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Sunday voiced confidence about the country's exit from a painful four-year debt crisis, as the first round of local elections got underway.
"In a democratic manner and with unity we are exiting the crisis," the conservative leader said after casting his ballot at the southern Greek city of Pylos.
"This day is dedicated to local administration. I hope peoples' choices of mayors and regional governors will be towards growth, employment and better quality of services for citizens," his socialist co-ruling partner Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after casting his vote at the northern city port of Thessaloniki.
About 9.8 million registered citizens are expected in polling stations throughout Sunday for the municipal and regional elections which are considered a first test for the government and opposition parties ahead of the May 25 polls for the European parliament.
Polls opened at 7:00 am local time (4:00 am GMT) and close at 19:00 pm, with exit polls expected shortly afterwards and final results on Monday.
The central issue in the local elections, as in the 2012 general elections, has been the economic crisis which has hit Greece hard since late 2009.
Even though under the Greek Constitution candidates at local elections do not run under the names of parties rather than independent electoral lists, most candidates are openly supported by parties.
Most seats are expected to be decided in the second round next Sunday, including the posts of the Mayor of the Municipality of Athens and Regional Governor of Attica, positions which are closely watched by parties and media. They were won by center-left backed politicians in the 2010 local elections.
"The future belongs to great cities... People are voting for dignity in Athens," incumbent Mayor Yorgos Kaminis said after casting his ballot. According to pollsters he leads the race.
"Today is a great moment for local administration and democracy," added incumbent regional governor Yannis Sgouros, who is running neck and neck with main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA party's candidate Rena Dourou, according to the latest opinion surveys.