President of the Socialist International, George Papandreou Jnr, into the office of Prime Minister on his third attempt.
Whilst most of Europe’s attention was focused on voting in a small country at one end of the EU over the weekend, at the opposite end of the continent another country, Greece, was electing a new government. And, whilst barely compensating for the loss of any left influence in the governance of one of Europe’s economic powerhouses last week, the result will help to ensure the retention of a reasonable sized left-leaning bloc on the Council of Ministers. It has also catapulted the
Greece has been governed by the centre-right Néa Dēmokratía(New Democracy – ND) and Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis since 2004, following an eleven year period under Panellinio Sosialistikó Kínima (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK). Since the early 1980s, PASOK has very much been the default party of government – helped by its birth in the struggle against the dictatorship of the Generals - with brief intervening periods of ND rule. Yesterday’s results suggest that this may not be about to change.
The five year government of Karamanlis has been a relatively unhappy period for Greece, beginning with a failure to capitalise on the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics, a poor government responseto the series of devastating summer fires, through to the violent rioting of last December. Despite being elected on a promise to clean up Greek politics, entrenched issues of corruption, graft and cronyism seem, if anything, to have got worse during the lifetime of Karamanlis’ government. On top of this have come the inevitable effects of the global recession: 2009 is expected to be the first year of negative economic growth for decades and government debt is touching 100% of GDP.
Karamanlis managed to narrowly win re-election in 2007 with a majority of just one. Whilst ND’s vote fell, PASOK was also hit by defections to smaller parties, with the Communist Party and the Coalition of the Radical Left in particular benefiting. With its hair’s breadth majority, Karamanlis found it increasingly hard to govern, particularly given the difficult financial circumstances and the fall-out from the 2008 civil unrest. As a result, Karamanlis dissolved parliament and called elections two years early – ostensibly, this was to provide greater legitimacy and a more workable majority, but given that opinion polls were consistently showing PASOK a good 5 points clear, it seemed more like a request for a mercy killing.
The key question, coming into the election, was not whether PASOK would come out ahead, but whether it would do so well enough to achieve a working majority. A failure to do so would almost certainly have led to another set of elections before the end of the year. PASOK fought the election for the third time under George Papandreou Jnr, whose father was twice Prime Minister (1944-5 and 1963-5), with the campaign majoring on the issues of the economy and corruption. Most notably, PASOK proposed a €3bn stimulus package for the Greek economy, with Papandreou making a pledge that will sound very familiar to British audiences, that the country’s defecit can be tackled without austerity or attacks on front-line services.
Although reports suggest that there was little enthusiasm for the election or any of the parties (turnout is estimated to have been 70.9%, despite theoretically mandatory voting), PASOK scored a decisive 43.9% of the vote, which will be enough for a majority of 10 in the new parliament – this is likely to be enough for Papandreou to see out a full four year term. ND’s score of 33.5% is their worst performance since the restoration of democracy in Greece. It is notable that the smaller parties of the left either fell back or stagnated as much of the anti-government vote coalesced around PASOK.
A summary of the results is below:
|Party||Politics||Vote share||Change from 2005||Seats||Change from 2005|
|Panellinio Sosialistikó Kínima||Social Democrat||43.93%||+5.83%||160||+58|
|Kommounistikó Kómma Elládas||Communist||7.54%||-0.61%||21||-1|
|Laïkós Orthódoxos Synagermós||Right-wing populist||5.63%||+1.83%||15||+5|
|Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás||Coalition of socialist, communist and green parties||4.60%||-0.44%||13||-1|