Greek Opposition Sees Victory in Sunday Vote
The center-right New Democracy Party of Constantine Mitsotakis ended its campaign Friday with a surprising display of strength and what appeared to be an even chance of toppling Greece’s Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in Sunday’s election.
Mitsotakis and jubilant party aides forecast victory as the candidate flew to his native Crete for a final campaign speech. His departure followed the most massive outpouring of political supporters in modern Greek history at a rally here Thursday night.
Papandreou, who earlier in the monthlong campaign committed a major blunder by branding Mitsotakis as a “friend of the (German) SS,” basing the charge on a false newspaper report, wound up his campaign Friday night with a rally in Athens. The turnout was large but did not approach the hundreds of thousands drawn into central Athens by his challenger the night before.
The candidates entered a legally required day of political silence today with public and private polls forecasting a close race. Several Greek analysts, who earlier in the week had forecast a slight lead for Papandreou, have scaled back their estimates.
Costas Caligas, the respected political writer of the conservative daily Kathemerini, said, “Mitsotakis has the momentum now, and it’s just too close to call.” Another analyst, who asked not to be named, said she now thinks Mitsotakis will win by a small margin.
Win or lose, Mitsotakis clearly has revitalized a virtually moribund opposition party that was all but destroyed by Papandreou’s overwhelming victory in 1981. Then strongly right-wing, New Democracy gathered only 36% of the vote as the tightly organized Panhellenic Socialist Movement (known by its Greek acronym PASOK) took an absolute majority, 172 of the 300 seats in Parliament.
Today, after less than a year as New Democracy’s leader, Mitsotakis has removed the rightist image and moved the party to the center, attracting moderates and even some disillusioned Socialists.
Papandreou has hammered at the theme that New Democracy is still the party of the right, a distasteful association in Greece with its history of American-backed right-wing failures. But Mitsotakis’ campaign appears to have succeeded with its slogan of “Liberal New Democracy.”
Mitsotakis is a colorless orator, but he appears to have succeeded in gaining widespread recognition among voters who hardly knew his name six months ago. Because of his height--he stands 6 feet 4--he has come to be known as “the Tall Man.”
Ironically, most Greek political observers credit Papandreou with unwittingly boosting the Mitsotakis image by slandering it.
Wartime Resistance Hero
Few knew, until Papandreou called him a “friend of the SS,” that the heavyset opposition leader was a hero of the Greek resistance in Crete during World War II. He was twice condemned to death and held in a concentration camp.
The prime minister was repeating a sensationalist and false Athens newspaper report that Mitsotakis had been a collaborator. The newspaper article was accompanied by a photo showing Mitsotakis with two smiling German soldiers, who, it turned out, had surrendered to him.
The mud-slinging had a backlash effect, in the view of political analysts, because it prompted Greeks who knew little about Mitsotakis’ background to examine his 40-year political career as a workmanlike member of Parliament and lawyer and a man who stood with courage not only against the Germans but also against the Greek military dictatorship of 1967-74.
Remaining coolly aloof from the name-calling, with strict orders to his subordinates not to retaliate, Mitsotakis has stuck to domestic pocketbook issues, sharply attacking Papandreou’s mishandling of the Greek economy.
With an inflation rate three times that of any other West European country and one of the highest rates of unemployment as well, Greece is staggering under a $13-billion debt burden, up from $4 billion when the Socialists came to power.
Favors U.S. Presence
Curiously, neither candidate has made an issue of foreign affairs, a topic that was the major element of Papandreou’s 1981 campaign. At that time, he called for pulling Greece out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Economic Community and closing American bases in Greece. Mitsotakis favors a continued American presence and continued Greek membership in NATO and the community.