Election Victory in Greece Goes to Papandreou
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou confounded forecasts and won a comfortable victory Sunday in the Greek national election.
The controversial Socialist leader, whose unpredictable verbal sallies against the United States and its European allies have irritated Western leaders since his first sweep to victory in 1981, won a second term with a reduced but still convincing majority of seats in the 300-member Greek Parliament.
The pro-American New Democracy party, which had mounted a challenge to Papandreou that forecasters had given an even chance of succeeding, admitted defeat early today when computer projections showed the prime minister’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leading by about five percentage points with roughly half the vote counted.
The lead translated into about 163 seats in Parliament, according to Panayote Dimitras, a Harvard-trained political scientist and leading Greek election analyst. Papandreou’s party won 172 seats in its overwhelming 1981 victory, but defections from the party had trimmed that majority to 165 when Papandreou dissolved Parliament a month ago and called for fresh elections.
In a victory statement early today, Papandreou said that “every government in power suffers some erosion of popularity.” But he added, “This is a triumph for the forces of change, progress and modernization.”
Papandreou, whose foreign policy actions have been the most disturbing to other Western governments, made no mention of foreign affairs when reporters questioned him after the victory statement but said his first priority will be to restructure his Cabinet.
New Democracy leader Constantine Mitsotakis, in a generally critical concession speech, said, “The Greek people have made their choice and I will not question it, but they were not well-informed.”
Analyzing the election results, which showed a surprising drop in votes for the country’s two Communist parties, the nonpartisan Dimitras said that a substantial number of Communist voters swung over to Papandreou’s party in Sunday’s balloting.
He attributed the unexpected shift to the surprising late campaign surge of the center-right New Democracy, demonstrated Thursday night in Athens when the largest crowd in Greek political history jammed into the city center for a party rally.
“It frightened them into thinking New Democracy would win unless they shifted their support to PASOK,” he said. He added that a surprise statement by former President Constantine Karamanlis tacitly urging people to vote for the conservative-centrist ticket of New Democracy also backfired and drove otherwise Communist voters into the Socialist ranks out of fear of a conservative victory.
Papandreou called the Karamanlis statement “his worst political stumble.”
An aide of Mitsotakis, Edward Carrer, said that New Democracy officials believe that the Communist voters who swung to Papandreou were ordered by their party to do so rather than risk a conservative victory.
He expressed surprise and disappointment at the outcome. “Some of the people in our party thought we might lose, but not by this kind of margin,” Carrer said.
Opposition Gains Seats
Based on about 70% of the returns, the Socialists won 46% of the vote to 40% for New Democracy, with about 11% for the two Communist parties, the Moscow-oriented KKE and the smaller Eurocommunists. In elections for the European Parliament last year, the Communists took 15%.
Although defeated, New Democracy gained about 15 seats over its minority of 112 in the outgoing Parliament, and the Communists slipped a few seats from their old number of 13.
Whether the election result means a further swerve to the left by the mercurial Greek prime minister remains to be seen. Papandreou and his Socialists have recently muted their anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric, possibly for campaign reasons.
The controversial leader came to power 3 1/2 years ago with pledges to kick American military bases out of Greece, get out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and quit the European Economic Community, but he did not fulfill the pledges.