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Historical Observations: Alexander Zaimis and the Elections of December, 1923

February 26, 2023

After the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923, the Revolutionary Committee (RC) under Colonel Plastiras wanted the resumption of normalcy in Greek domestic life and the staging of democratic elections.

In early August, Plastiras and foreign minister Apostolos Alexandris offered the leadership of a national coalition government to Zaimis that would be composed of Venizelists and anti-Venizelist elements. Zaimis accepted their offer and would approach political colleagues who could join such a group. He met with Nikolaos Triantaphyllakos, Pericles Argyropoulos, George Rallis, Athanasios Argyros, Spyros Koumoundouros, and the Mercouris brothers, who expressed interest in joining the coalition. Interestingly, Alexandros Papanastasiou (Democratic Group) announced that the national coalition was destined to become a shipwreck – a prediction which proved correct in the end.

Zaimis mentioned that his party’s main object was “to get the country out of isolation and unity among the party… Its policy will be the impartial application of justice to political friends and adversaries alike”, Zaimis said.

According to the Irish Times, “Zaimis enjoyed the confidence of the RC and his main opponent would be Metaxas.” The RC distrusted Metaxas for his loyalty to ex-King Constantine, whereas Zaimis despite being a royalist was respected by the Venizelists for his moderate views.

Throughout the remainder of August – until September 18, Zaimis continued his negotiations with various political candidates to join the coalition but the implementation of the ballot system for the elections troubled him. He decided to withdraw from the campaign failing to attract the necessary support of his friends. The premier, Colonel Gonatas stated “it is a pity that Zaimis is withdrawing, as we looked with much sympathy on his efforts. We are sorry he has misjudged the measures adopted by the government.”

Zaimis’ withdrawal wasn’t well received by some Athenians who hoped that his candidature would pacify the political situation in Greece.

As stated above, the ballot system was one of the main reasons leading to Zaimis’ withdrawal from the elections. The RC wanted to implement the written ballot instead the ball system that had been in the 1920 elections. Under the latter arrangement, the ballot was cast by placing it in a box divided into two sections. The compartments were painted black or white and the marbles placed in the white compartment represented favorable votes. Written ballots would favor the educated classes in Athens whereas the ball system would be welcomed by the illiterate classes i.e. in Thrace and Macedonia. Zaimis insisted on the retention of the ball system instead of the written ballot, which the RC was unwilling to consider.

Another political group the United Opposition (Conservative) also abstained – following Zaimis’ example – from participation in the election. They cited two reasons for their decision: (1) the existence of martial law; and (2) the participation of active army officers in the election. Furthermore, they were concerned about: the arbitrary way of fixing the number of representatives in particular districts; the abolition of the overseeing committees in districts where voting more than once by the same voter is possible although it was against the law; prohibiting representatives of the candidates from being present at the voting by ballot will be used; and assigning the task of maintaining order during the elections to the regular army.

The abstention of Zaimis and anti-Venizelist candidates made it easier for the Liberal Party to win the election. As the leader of the Liberal party, General Danglis sought suitable candidates to achieve an outright majority in the national assembly. As the election campaign proceeded, Danglis exchanged a series of telegrams with Eleftherios Venizelos urging him to participate in the election.

Meanwhile, Generals Pangalos and Kondylis, along with the chief of the Navy, Captain Hadjikyriakos, spoke openly about establishing a republic. These officers used their troops to crush a coup d’etat led by Generals Leanardopoulos, Gargalidis, and Captain Ziras in October. Plastiras summoned the leaders of all political groups to discuss the internal situation. Some old-time Venizelists and Royalists including Plastiras rejected the removal of the King. Venizelos telegraphed from Paris urging no change in the monarchy. Some Venizelists were unhappy with Venizelos supporting the King. On the other hand, Plastiras feared a potential counter-revolution to replace the monarchy with a republic before the elections, which was viewed with trepidation by Great Britain. It should be noted that King George II had left Greece “temporarily.”

The result of the December 16 election registered a triumphal victory for the Liberals led by Venizelos. They won 250 seats, the Democratic Union/Democrat Liberals 120, anti-Venizelists 7, Independent Democrats 7, and Agrarian Party 3. Plastiras was pleased with the final result of the election which was conducted peacefully and without incident.

In conclusion, the failure of Zaimis to establish a coalition government and his abstention from the election allowed the Liberal party to have a large majority in the National Assembly.

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