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Greece - General Elections

General elections in Greece, 7th March 2004

General elections in Greece, 7th March 2004

07/03/2004 - Analysis

During its last session and a solemn ceremony on 10th February with the Prime Minister Costas Simitis, leaders of the political parties, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos and the Cypriot authorities in attendance, Parliament ratified the European Union's enlargement treaty. On 11th February, the very same Parliament was dissolved with the upcoming general elections on 7th March in mind. Initially the elections had been planned for the end of April or the beginning of May this year and therefore will take place early in order to include the developments in the Cypriot question but also so that the government, that results from these elections, might gain the confidence of the MP's before the European Council on 25th and 26th March and also in time for the official lighting of the Olympic flame set for 25th March for the Athens Games in August.

The Greek Political System

The Vouli (Parliament) comprises a single chamber and includes three hundred members, elected by proportionally for four years in fifty-six constituencies of which 51 are pluri-nominal. A political movement must win at least 3% of the vote to be represented in Parliament. The electoral system (strengthened proportionally) guarantees a 70% level of representativeness to the political parties who have the right to have a seat in Parliament.

Four political movements are represented in the present Parliament:

- The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), a party founded in September 1974 by Andreas Papandreou. It was nationalist and populist under the presidency of its founder, but the party became a European Social Democrat movement under Costas Simitis;

- New Democracy (ND), a party founded by Constantin Caramanlis in October 1974 with figures from the former Centre Union and independents;

- The Communist Party (KKE), a party that resulted from the Socialist and Worker's Movement and that still remains very much attached to the Communist ideology;

- The Coalition of Leftwing Forces and Progress (Synaspismos), a party that was created in 1989 bringing together the former leftwing of the PASOK, the two Greek Communist parties, ecologists and other leftwing sympathisers.

The present political situation

On 23rd January last the deputy Minister for the Economy, Christos Pachtas, was forced to resign after allegations of corruption were brought against him. Many claims were made after the night session focussing on an amendment that gave permission to the tourist complex Porto Karras to build 5,000 bungalows in the protected forested area on the peninsula of Sithonia in Chalkidiki that in fact lies in Christos Pachtas' constituency. The Deputy Prime Minister and nine PASOK MP's (including Theodoros Katsanevas, George Papandreou's brother-in-law), who had voted in his favour, were banned from the party's candidature lists in the general elections, without however being excluded from the party. One of the MP's Mr Anthopoulos, admitted having forged the signature of three of his colleagues after being guaranteed by the entrepreneur involved in the construction their agreement to the project. This scandal has weakened the PASOK Socialists according to several opinion polls - they had just managed to reduce the difference between themselves and their main rivals New Democracy (ND) by three points.

The recovery by PASOK in the surveys was consecutive to George Papandreou, Foreign Minister, taking back the management of the party once more. On 7th January last the 67 year-old Prime Minister Costas Simitis announced his retirement from the forefront of the national political scene after the general elections on 7th March next. He was elected as head of PASOK in 1996 on the death of Andreas Papandreou. Costas Simitis enabled his party to regain power in that same year and to maintain this during the general elections on 12th April 2000. At that time he maintained, "Two terms in office were enough". Just as he is about to leave power the Prime Minister can be proud of having turned the page on the nationalist and populist policies of his predecessor at the head of PASOK and to have succeeded in modernising the economy thereby enabling his country to enter the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 2000. Greece is the country out of the Fifteen to record the highest growth rate of its GDP.

Costas Simitis will be replaced as leader of the Social Democrats by George Papandreou, son of Andreas, the founding father of PASOK, and grandson of George Papandreou, the great leftwing post war leader, both former Prime Ministers. "Yorgakis", as he is called by his supporters in order to differentiate him from his grandfather, was born in 1952 in the USA of an American mother. He was educated there. He is very much attached to his country's integration into Europe and is strongly in favour of maintaining good trans-Atlantic relations; these are two subjects that have often been a source of division in the PASOK. George Papandreou, who has been a very popular Foreign Minister for the last four years, is also in the eyes of many Greeks, the symbol of a revival in the management of public affairs. After his father's death he supported Costas Simitis's reform of PASOK. Previously he had occupied the positions of Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, then National Education Minister before becoming the head of diplomacy. In 2000 he was the first Foreign Affairs Minister from his country to have travelled to the Turkish capital Ankara and also during his mandate to have worked greatly in favour of bringing Greeks and Turks closer together.

On resignation, Costas Simitis emphasised the need to "provide new energy and renewed dynamism" to his party. "Today I am presenting my resignation as president of PASOK. The spirit of renewal must continue. The election of a new president will bring the party together and strengthen its image in time for these elections," he declared. On 8th February, George Papandreou was voted head of the Socialist Party winning 99.83% of the vote during an unprecedented election in which over a million Greeks took part for the very first time. The new leader of the party, who was the only candidate as successor Costas Simitis, not only wanted party members (i.e. 146,000 members) but also "friends of PASOK" to vote in order to strengthen his legitimacy during this election; this meant all supporters registered on the electoral roll. The party had hastily modified its statutes during an extraordinary congress on 6th February in order to make this election possible. Therefore the heir to the Papandreou clan embodies all the hopes of the Left in the 7th March elections. This change at the head of PASOK has enabled the party to climb back in the opinion polls and to reduce by half the gap between it and its main rivals New Democracy.

The Election Stakes

On 7th March the heirs of the two main political dynasties of the 20th century in Greece will face each other. George Papandreou will face Constantin Caramanlis, the nephew of Constantin Caramanlis, who was Prime Minister four times (1953-1963, 1974-1981). It is also believed that one candidate in five in the upcoming elections is a political heir.

The main opposition party, New Democracy experienced a high point with the announcement by Constantin Mitsotakis that he was withdrawing from the political arena on 23rd January. The former Prime Minister (1990-1993) had until now been honorary president of the movement he had presided over 1984 and 1996. On 3rd February Constantin Caramanlis, president of the party and George Souflias, MP presented New Democracy's economic programme. This plans amongst other things a reduction of between 25% and 20% of the tax coefficient on profits made by limited companies, an increase in the provision of the weakest incomes (EKAS) that will rise from 200 to 330 euros by 2008, privatisation of the telecommunications industry and the sale of Olympic Airways to a private airline.

A few days later, George Papandreou presented his party's ten commitments in preparation for the general elections. Amongst the PASOK promises there is a new employment system focussing on young people that aims to limit unemployment to a maximum period of six months, rebates for tax payers and companies, an increase in pensions, the creation of new hospitals and the institution of participatory democracy by the organisation of local referenda. He also announced his intention to change the procedure of university entry that has been widely criticised by the leftwing and progress coalition forces, Synaspismos. "The traditional theorists of neo-liberalism or the World Trade Organisation would not have dreamt that market logic would penetrate so far into Education," declared its president, Nicos Constantopoulos, adding, "with each day that passes, George Papandreou announces a transformation in the political physiognomy of his party."

Just three weeks before the elections New Democracy remains in the lead in the opinion polls in terms of intention to vote. In the latest poll undertaken by VPRC on 9th and 10th February, published on 12th of this month the party is credited with 47% of the vote versus les 41.5% for PASOK. Amongst the other parties the Communist Party (KKE) is due to win 6.5% of the vote, the Coalition Forces of the Left and Progress Synaspismos, 2.5%, the Democratic and Social Movement (Dikki), 1% and finally Laos (People), an extreme rightwing movement 0.5%. However, George Papandreou is still the country's most popular politician and considered the most able in terms of undertaking the position of Prime Minister (45% of those interviewed agreed with this versus 37% in favour of the leader of New Democracy).

On 12th February in accordance with the country's political customs, Costas Scandalidis and Christos Protopapas, Home and Press Ministers respectively, resigned from their positions to be replaced by independent figures. The day before George Papandreou also left his functions as head of diplomacy in order to lead his party's electoral campaign. Although matters are far from being decided the heir to the Papandreou dynasty will nevertheless the three remaining weeks will not be too much in order to enable his party to maintain its power and to become the third Papandreou in history to govern Greece.

Reminder of the general elections results on 9th April 2000:

Participation rate: 75%

Source Greek Home Office
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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