Winds of Change

The victory of New Democracy caught the political pundits by surprise *#8211; at least to a degree.*nbsp; Most people calculated for the conservatives, but even optimists assumed that New Democracy would just squeak in with a bare majority and maybe even a minority government.*nbsp;*nbsp; Karamanlis and his party proved them wrong.*nbsp;*nbsp;

The next issue for the pundits is whether the electorate voted New Democracy in or PASOK out.*nbsp; In other words, is the election result a message from the voters that they had grown weary of a tired government?*nbsp; People, the experts argue had grown sick of the corruption, nepotism and cronyism of the Simitis Government and wanted to punish the socialists by voting them out of power.*nbsp; The Papandreou factor came too late to have an impact or many voters saw it as a cynical move by the ruling socialists to hang on to power.*nbsp;*nbsp;

I am sure that a percentage of voters had retribution in mind and cast their ballot for anyone but PASOK delegates.*nbsp; However, this says little about the popularity of individual members of the Greek Parliament.*nbsp; Most Greek MPs work their ridings and stay in touch with their constituents. Greece is a small country and it is quite easy for any member of parliament to shuttle between his or her riding and Athens.*nbsp;*nbsp;

Therefore punishing a party by voting against individual members, who may have provided services to their constituents, seems uncharacteristic for Greek voters.*nbsp; Even the widespread nepotism that is associated with Greek politics is an offshoot of the system of patronage that is part of the relationship between politician and voter endemic in all democracies.*nbsp;*nbsp;

In addition, there is the ideological factor.*nbsp; Many people in Greece bought into the socialist philosophy propagated by PASOK.*nbsp; Under the tutelage of Andreas Papandreou, these socialist concepts and ideas offered the Greek electorate a clear alternative to the conservatives.*nbsp; Papandreou also organized PASOK as a multi-layered and multi-dimensional organization with a national infrastructure very similar to the party machinery akin to the political parties of the United States and Canada.*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;

This was a radical departure from the traditional political factions that clustered around an individual leader and fell apart when that individual retired or passed away.*nbsp; The only way for PASOK to have survived Papandreou was to become even more like the western political parties and strive towards the political center.*nbsp; The PASOK of Simitis, had more in common with New Democracy than did the PASOK of Andreas Papandreou.*nbsp;*nbsp;

However, once PASOK reached the center of the Greek political spectrum it had nowhere else to go except further to the right.*nbsp;*nbsp; Karamanlis*#8217; genius was to reorganize New Democracy into a cohesive national party and move it ideologically to the center of Greek politics and thus offer the Greek voters a real alternative.*nbsp; Consequently, Karamanlis won the election by convincing more Greek citizens that he and his party would govern the country better than PASOK, not so much on ideological grounds, but because the voters believed that New Democracy promised a competent administration.*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;

Conversely, PASOK lost many voters not only because the party had grown tired and lacked fresh ideas, but also because it had lost its ideological rudder.*nbsp; PASOK (even under George Papandreou) did not offer the voter a clear choice between socialist and conservative policies; rather it presented a mishmash of neo-conservative ideas cloaked in populist rhetoric that in the end fooled no one.*nbsp; Effectively, Karamanlis won because he succeeded in sharply contrasting the policies of his party with those of PASOK so that the electorate had a pragmatic and rational choice.*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;

The next challenge for Karamanlis, of course, is tackling a host of problems confronting the Greek state but it is the tasks at hand that will prove the metal of the new government. The Cyprus issue, the Olympics and less so the election of new president of the republic, are formidable tasks that must be addressed in the next few months.*nbsp; How Karamanlis will choose to address these will be partially revealed by whom he will choose to form his first cabinet.*nbsp; There is a great deal at stake and Karamanlis will not have the luxury of experimenting or giving portfolios as rewards for past services.*nbsp; With such narrow margins he must, most of all opt for ability.*nbsp;*nbsp;

Andre Gerolymatos is Professor and Chair of Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.