04/05/2009 - Results
The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) led by George Papandreou won the general elections in Greece on 4th October. The PASOK won 43.94% of the vote and 160 of the 300 seats in the Vouli (Parliament), i.e. +58 in comparison with the previous election on 16th September 2007; it now also has an absolute majority. Outgoing Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis's party, New Democracy (ND) won 33.48% of the vote and 91 seats (-61), its lowest score since the creation of the party in 1974. ND has lost around one fifth of its electorate over the last two years. The support enjoyed by both of the main Greek political parties has declined however over the years. In March 2004 ND and PASOK won 85.4% of the vote together. In September 2007 they won 79.96%. Two years later this figure has declined again to lie at 77.9% of the vote. The "small" parties therefore achieved their highest score since 1958.
The Communist Party (KKE) retained its position coming third and winning 7.53% of the vote (21 seats, -1). The People's Orthodox Alarm (LAOS) came fourth with 5.62% of the vote and has won its wager of obtaining 15 seats (+ 5). "The People's Orthodox Alarm leader, Georgis Karatzaferis, has understood the exasperation felt by the Greeks. After the sale of the port of Piraeus to the Chinese, and that of the national airline to a group from the Emirates and the telecoms which have gone to the Germans, he is advising on a return to Hellenic identity," stresses Sociology Professor Persa Zeri. The Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) won 4.59% of the vote (13 seats -1). With 2.52% of the vote the Greens did not succeed in rising above the 3% threshold obligatory to be represented in the Vouli.
Turn out rose to 70.92% i.e. -3.22 points in comparison with the elections in 2007. It is obligatory to vote in Greece.
"The only honest, responsible path for me to take is to assume responsibility for this defeat and start the procedure to convene an exceptional congress for the party in one month's time," declared outgoing Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis when the results were announced. "I took some difficult, necessary decisions, the citizens have not approved my plan to bring the country out of the crisis, I respect their opinion – they have had the last word," he added. He announced his resignation from the management of New Democracy.
Kostas Karamanlis lost his particularly audacious wager, which was qualified by some as an "error" and even "political suicide". The outgoing Prime Minister, in power since March 2004 took the decision to convene early general elections to strengthen his legitimacy in order to have greater freedom, vital to complete the difficult but necessary reforms for the country's future. Many analysts and voters visibly did not understand why Kostas Karamanlis did not implement these reforms earlier although he had been head of government for the last five years.
Kostas Karamanlis's party certainly paid the price for the numerous financial scandals in which several of its members were involved. The biggest of these scandals involved the exchange of land between the State and an Orthodox Monastery. Investigators have compared the value of the land and proved that the State lost around 100 million € in the operation. This scandal led to the resignation of two ministers. Finally the government was severely criticised for its management of the social turmoil that degenerated into urban violence in December 2008 and which led to the death of a 15 year old boy, who was shot by police forces; there were even fires in the region of Athens last August.
"We stand united before the major responsibility I am taking on, we are calling on the Greeks to come together, we know we can make it. I know the country's potential very well, a potential undermined by corruption, favouritism, anarchy and waste. From now on we shall start work on a national level to get Greece back on its feet, free its immense capabilities which have been suffocated by corruption and waste. Nothing will be easy, we shall have to work hard," indicated George Papandreou after his victory was announced.
Amongst other matters ND and PASOK oppose each other with regard to the solutions to provide to the international economic crisis. Kostas Karamanlis promised to undertake an austerity policy (the freezing of salaries in the public sector and retirement pensions, reduction of the national debt and acceleration of privatisations to limit public spending) to bring down State spending by 30% over the next two years. At the other extreme the PASOK programme is based on redistribution of wealth and recovery. It wants to stimulate the Greek economy by providing public investment to a total of 5% of the GDP by granting salary increases in the public sector above the inflation rate, by reducing taxation of those with an annual income below 30,000 € and by increasing unemployment benefits and retirement pensions. The Socialists committed to renegotiating privatizations that have already been completed (and abandon ongoing projects), to re-establishing wealth tax and heritage duties and protecting households' buying power by blocking the prices of State controlled service companies for a year – this will include companies whose reimbursement of banking debts will be suspended for a period of twelve months also.
Once more in Greece political power has passed from a Karamanlis to a Papandreou. Whilst the outgoing Prime Minister is the nephew of former President of the Republic (1980-1995), Konstantin Karamanlis, the future head of government, George Papandreou is the son of Andreas, and grandson of George Papandreou, post-war leader, both former Prime Ministers. The two rival families have governed the country for 32 of the 47 years of democracy enjoyed by Greece since 1955. "My family tradition and policy is that of fighting for democracy and social justice," declared Mr Papandreou on 4th October.
Aged 57, born in Saint Paul, Minnesota of a Swedish/American mother, George Papandreou is a graduate in sociology. On his return to Greece after the fall of the colonels' regime in 1974 (from 1967 to 1974 Greece was governed by a junta of officers led by Georgios Papadopoulos who chased Andreas Papandreou from his position as Prime Minister). From 1985 on Yorgakis, as his supporters call him to distinguish him from his grandfather, has occupied several ministerial posts (Education and Religious Affairs Minister, Minister for Government Coordination for Greece's candidature for the organisation of the Olympic Games in the summer of 2004 and finally Foreign Minister). In 2000, whilst he was Foreign Minister he travelled to Ankara. It was an all time first. During his term in office he also worked towards bringing Greece and Turkey together. On 13th September he declared however that he could not rule out placing his veto on Turkey's bid for membership of the EU if this country did not respect good neighbourly rules and did not help in finding a solution to the Cypriot problem.
PASOK Secretary General since January 2004 George Papandreou is also chair of the Socialist International since 2006.
The next Greek Prime Minister will not be able to count on any period of grace. He will have to address urgently the stabilisation of the financial situation: every day the country falls further into debt by 237 million €; its budgetary deficit is due to rise to 6.2% of the GDP in 2009 and to 7.3% in 2010; finally the national debt may rise to 100% of the GDP this year. During his electoral campaign George Papandreou declared that he would ask the EU for a three year extension to the time granted to Greece to reduce its budgetary deficit (the deadline was set at 2010). The future Prime Minister will have the chance to present the measures he intends to establish to reduce his budgetary deficit on 24th October when his 26 European partners will be in Athens.