*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Costas Karamanlis is one of the youngest prime ministers in Modern Greek history. At 47, he takes over the heavy responsibilities of governing the country after the decisive defeat of PASOK, the socialist party, that had been in power since 1980, with only a brief interruption in 1990-93.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; New Democracy*#8217;s victory was expected, although its large-margin win over PASOK was not. In fact, the 5-percent difference was exactly what the opinion polls predicted three months ago before Costas Simitis, the then prime minister and leader of PASOK, resigned as the leader of the party and had George Papandreou become the party*#8217;s new chairman one month before election day. Banking on the illustrious name of the new leader*#8212;son of Andreas Papandreou and grandson of George Papandreou*#8212;PASOK tried to regain public support. For three weeks, George Papandreou made an effort to give the impression that he was determined to usher a new era in PASOK, criticizing its past mistakes, downplaying its socialist leanings, and offering moderate and unifying solutions to the country*#8217;s problems.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; The tactic seemed to work, but it displeased many of the socialist-minded die-hards in the party. In the final week before the election, George Papandreou gave in to their pressure and launched fierce attacks against the *#8220;Right*#8221; with sloganeering taken from the old and discredited prescriptions of the 1970s and 1980s.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; As noted by the daily *#8220;Eleutherotipia,*#8221; a PASOK-friendly newspaper, *#8220;while Papandreou started his campaign low key and with moderation*#8212;the only way to win over any conservative voters necessary for an electoral victory*#8212;toward the end of the campaign he adopted a harsh rhetoric, with polarization and with the use of the classic *#8216;anti-Right*#8217; PASOK recipe.*#8221; The good will Papandreou had won in the first three weeks of the campaign had dissipated.
A FULL PLATE
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Costas Karamanlis and his New Democracy government have inherited all the problems PASOK had been unable to face effectively. But Mr. Karamanlis can count on broad support from Papandreou for at least two items*#8212;the Olympic Games and the solution in Cyprus*#8212;which have the highest urgency because of deadlines. Both leaders have admitted publicly that these important national issues should not be subject to partisan wrangling. That is certainly a positive sign. But beyond these two issues, the Karamanlis government faces vexing problems in the area of unemployment, the low quality of education, inadequate health care, the inability of Greek industrial and agricultural products to compete in world trade, the excessive power given to trade unionists, the reform of the pension system, and the effective privatization of inefficient state enterprises which remain solvent with constant infusions of funds from the public treasury. Add to this list the decline of tourism, the anemic attraction of foreign investments, the shortfall in the volume of support grants from the European Union now that ten more countries*#8212;all of them needy*#8212;will be added to the present fifteen members of the E.U., dealing with the ingrained anti-Americanism, and all the other big and small problems which inevitably will emerge during the months to come. A full plate by any measure.
Mr. Karamanlis can count on
broad support from Papandreou…
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; For the past twenty years, PASOK expanded the welfare state using for the most part the money that came from the European Union in the form of support grants. It was a policy that earned votes and won elections. The New Democracy party will have to steer a very delicate course between the perpetuation of welfare programs and the need for economic policies that will promote economic development and growth.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Four years ago, the New Democracy had lost the election by a small margin. PASOK unexpectedly had won by a few thousand votes. The followers of New Democracy who expected victory were bitterly disappointed and raised issues of voting irregularities and wholesale granting of the right to vote to newly arrived immigrants. New Democracy*#8217;s loss in 2000 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. At that time, its leader, Costas Karamanlis, was inexperienced, the party organization was still dominated by groups or individual with narrow, partisan views, its program was not fully developed to the level demanded by the times.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; Now, the New Democracy party and its leadership are more prepared for the difficult tasks ahead. During the electoral campaign and especially in the last five or six weeks, Costas Karamanlis showed maturity, eloquence, clarity of thought, genuine moderation and realism, in a way that the impression that he is not as capable to be a prime minister as Costas Simitis or George Papandreou was replaced by a widespread feeling that his abilities had been underestimated. From the cauldron of the electoral campaign, Karamanlis emerged a leader not only because of his position, but also because of his caliber. The ancient Greeks said, *#8220;a man is tested by his leadership.*#8221; Karamanlis will have to pass the test in the next four years.
*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp; In a technical sense, the New Democracy party may not be able to stay in power for the four-year term. A year from now, the Greek legislature will have to elect a new President of the Republic. A minimum of 180 votes (in the 300-seat legislature) are needed to elect the new President. The New Democracy has 165 seats, PASOK 117, Communist party (KKE) 12 and Alliance of the Left 6. PASOK with 117 votes cannot block the election of a new President*#8212;and thereby force a new parliamentary election*#8212;unless KKE and the Alliance also vote against ND*#8217;s choice for President. The two smaller parties may see no benefit in having another election so soon. PASOK on its part may decide not to force another election*#8212;unless, of course, the opinion polls reveal that the popularity and public support for the New Democracy has plummeted. Few expect this to happen.