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The Greeks and Their Elections (Part 2)

March 14, 2004


( Research Service)- The statistical breakdown of how Greeks voted in different regions offers a glimpse into regional preferences, but also reveals electoral oddities.

The complete statistics, published last week in the newspaper ‘Ethnos,’ paint a picture of national voting trends that confirm the conventional wisdom in some cases, and confound it in others.Nationwide, Nea Demokratia won 45.37 percent of the vote, compared to 40.55 percent for PASOK and 5.89 percent for the Communist KKE. Three other parties picked up the scraps. This translated into 165 parliamentary seats for the winners and 117 for PASOK.

Out of 9,881,291 registered voters, a total of 7,557,565 voted- a turnout of 76.48 percent. Voting is mandatory in Greece, though not enforced. However, at the same time over 42,000 ballots were recorded as having been left blank.

The kastra, or strongholds, of the parties were a study of geographic opposites. Crete in the south “never changes,” said a professor we spoke with in Thessaloniki. “The Cretans are always for PASOK.” Indeed, of Crete’s 4 prefectures, 3- Lassithi, Heraklio and Chania- gave PASOK victories with respective rates of 55.94 percent, 55.27 percent and 48.83 percent voting in its favor. Crete’s other prefecture, Rethymno, also gave a relatively high percentage of votes for PASOK (47.07 percent).

Nea Demokratia’s showing here was correspondingly below the national average: 39.4 percent in Chania, 36.81 percent in Lassithi, and 36.18 percent in Heraklio.

The winning party did best in northern Greece- the dead geographical opposite of Crete. Macedonian prefectures went largely to Nea Demokratia, with 57.69 percent in Kastoria, 56.35 percent in Serres, 52.47 percent in Drama, 52.07 percent in Halkidiki, 51.05 percent in Kilkis and 50.92 percent in Florina.

PASOK’s popularity was correspondingly low in Macedonia: 36.46 percent in Kilkis, 34.53 percent in Kastoria, and 34.06 percent in Serres.

What explains this clear and discernable dichotomy? One might think that Crete, as a largely agricultural entity, fears loss of agricultural subsidies from the new government. However, Crete is not the only agricultural region in Greece, but it is almost unique in its preference for PASOK.

Considering that the party was in power for 20 out of 23 years, we might therefore imagine that Cretan traditionalism, distinct from conservatism per se, lies behind PASOK’s popularity there. Cretans are known for being somewhat set in their ways, and it’s quite possible that the vote represents this.

Northern Greece, on the other hand is “Nea Demokratia all the way.” While it is similarly difficult to find a general reason for this, one might suspect that the conservative party appealed to Greeks whose nationalism is naturally aroused by their proximity to Balkan borders. Macedonia’s capital of Thessaloniki felt the sea change in government most strongly, with Nea Demokratia picking up 6 parliamentary seats and PASOK losing 4 seats. The Epirot capital of Ioannina to the northwest registered a 6-point win for Nea Demokratia, and results similarly close to the national average were recorded in Xanthi in Thrace and in Rhodopi prefecture. Florina in Macedonia favored Nea Demokratia by twice the national average, and almost the same result was recorded in Evros in the far northeast near Turkey.

In terms of highest percentages voting for each party, Kastoria illustrated the favoritism clearly, having the nation’s highest (89.38 percent) and third-highest (81.75 percent) result for the winners. However, despite its general favoritism of PASOK, Crete was not represented among the top supporters of the party. Instead, this honor went to two municipalities of the Achaean prefecture, in the north of the Peloponnese and Greece’s third largest city of Patras. Here, the Kalentziou and Messatidos municipalities recorded 88.78 percent and 80 percent support for PASOK.

The little island of Ikaria, meanwhile, turned out to be a hotbed for subversives, with 3 of its municipalities giving over 28 percent to the KKE. The largest result was recorded in Evdilos municipality- a full 38.07 percent. This seemingly strange result has historical explanation: as Lonely Planet’s guide to Greece wrote in 1997, the island was “…used as a dumping ground for left-wing political dissidents by various right-wing governments,” and as such the “…Ikarians have a rather devil-may-care approach to things, including tourism.” Subversive sympathies were also detected in neighboring eastern Aegean islands such as Samos and Lesvos, which both gave double-digit votes to the KKE.

However, the only place in the country where this support actually translated into parliamentary gains for the Communists was far away in the Athenian port of Piraeus, where the KKE gained 2 seats.

In fact, the eastern Aegean actually seems to have experienced the ‘Nader factor’: in Lesvos and Samos support for the far leftists undercut PASOK’s popularity, causing it to lose 3 seats and allowing Nea Demokratia to pick up an equal number.

The general pattern throughout the country, compared to the last elections of 2000, was a 3-5 percent drop in support for PASOK and a corresponding gain for Nea Demokratia. This was found even in Crete, where while PASOK won most municipalities, the result moved slightly closer than in 2000.

However, there were more dramatic changes in some places. In 4 Rhodopi municipalities- Arrianos, Sostos, Filuras, and Kechros- Nea Demokratia’s popularity increased by approximately 50 percent compared to the elections of 2000.

Sub-regional preferences were also strong. The large island of Evvoia, northeast of Athens, saw neighboring municipalities take strongly divergent stances. For example, Amarinthios went to Nea Demokratia by a total of 58.38 percent compared to 33.54 percent for PASOK, and the difference in Marmarios municipality was even more pronounced, with PASOK winning only 27.23 percent of the vote and the election winners 64.14 percent. Yet other Evvoian municipalities were equally pro-PASOK: Distion (53.59 to 37.23 percent); Konistros (by 52.19 to 36.61 percent); and Skiros (52.67 to 37.98 percent).

However, in most cases even these big differences reflected pre-existing opinions generally represented in the elections of 4 years ago. In a surprising case of an actual improvement for PASOK, the tiny island of Gavdos, two hours south of Crete and the southernmost point in Europe, gave the election-losers 64.79 percent of the vote, compared to 59.7 percent in 2000. And support for Nea Demokratia correspondingly declined from 34.33 percent in 2000 to 33.8 percent this year. However, despite their mighty effort, the Gavdians could not check the Nea Demokratia onslaught.


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