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Down-to-the-Wire Elections Conclude in Greece

March 7, 2004

( Research Service)- Voters have only another two hours to cast their ballots in Greece’s parliamentary elections. Although exit polls have not yet been released, the conservative Nea Demokratia party of Costas Karamanlis is expected to narrowly come out ahead of the revitalized Socialist PASOK of George Papandreou.The latter was chosen to replace Prime Minister Costas Simitis as party boss when it seemed that Simitis would prove unpopular with voters. PASOK is trying for a record fourth term in office.

Over the past few weeks, opinion polls have shown Nea Demokratia with a 3-point lead. The party has been expected to win the elections for at least two years, as typical grumblings over the economy and allegations of cronyism disenchanted voters with PASOK.

Last night, both parties declared their certainty of victory. “…In a few hours, the Greeks, with their decision, will bring about the great political change that the country needs,” declared ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos. Papandreou, for his part, declared that “…the people have spoken tonight and they vote for progress and democracy.” Officials of his party scoffed at ND’s final central Athens rally of 200,000 supporters, claiming that PASOK’s similar rally attracted a crowd twice as large.

Despite being blamed for chaotic and disorganized planning, especially regarding the Olympics, Greece’s election process has one indisputably good aspect: a ban on opinion polls in the last two weeks of the campaign. American elections have often come under criticism for a preponderance of polls that sometimes have had harmful and final effects on election results.

Both parties made photo opportunities out of the recent disastrous snowstorm that did severe damage to Greece’s agricultural industry. But the PASOK government suffered most of all, being criticized on television for its perceived slow response in combating the storm.

Greeks have expressed ambivalence over the political offerings, charging that both parties represent nothing more than the continuation of family dynasties. The leaders of both parties do indeed have a long and intertwined legacy:

“…Papandreou, 51, and Karamanlis, 47, are the scions of prominent political families and their duel is the latest chapter in a long rivalry. Papandreou’s grandfather and namesake was a centrist who beat Karamanlis’s uncle and namesake in elections in 1963. Papandreou’s father, Andreas, founded PASOK in 1974 and ran against the elder Constantine Karamanlis’s New Democracy, sweeping to power in 1981. PASOK has ruled almost uninterruptedly since then, apart from a break from 1990-93, which was ND’s last taste of power. The younger Karamanlis was elected leader in March 1997 and lost a close election to Simitis in 2000.

Simitis, who succeeded Andreas Papandreou as prime minister and PASOK’s second leader in 1996, resigned in favor of the younger Papandreou when polls showed PASOK heading for defeat. Papandreou last night referred to his father, to Simitis and to many deceased PASOK cadres in an effort to raise the passions of the crowd before he launched into a speech aimed at stressing his desire to renew the party.”

The new Greek government will be immediately under the gun to make the final feverish preparations for August’s Olympics. While Greeks may not take any special pride in their political elites, the successfulness of the Games is a matter of national pride, especially amidst the constant griping of naysayers from without. Venues for the Games such as the main Olympic stadium, have yet to be completed, and massive security preparations have also to be finalized. A major security exercise is scheduled to begin Wednesday, bringing Greek and American special forces together in an anti-terrorist simulation exercise. The media has been banned from covering this event.

Indeed, the biggest challenge for the incoming government may be to pick up where the old one left off in regards to security and other Olympic cooperation. New leaders will have to be briefed on their roles, and new relationships will have to be forged. All this with less than five months to go is not auspicious- but then again, when has the frenetic, fast-paced Greek way ever had a use for good timing?

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