A nation at the crossroads

David North June 3 1985

A nation at the crossroads

David North June 3 1985

A nation at the crossroads


David North

In the Greek countryside supporters spread rose petals at his feet and place red carpets in the path of his limousine. In Athens and other major cities vast crowds cheer his speeches.

But behind the displays of adulation for Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou as he heads into a national election next week, there are signs of political shifts that could cost the charismatic leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) the power he gained less than four years ago in a landslide electoral victory. Regardless of the outcome, the impact of the voting on June 2 will be felt not only in Greece but across Europe and in the Atlantic alliance. Said Pasok candidate Calliope Bourdara:

“This election is a turning point for Greece.”

The campaign has been bitter. It has highlighted not only the ideological chasm that divides the Socialists from the conservative New Democracy party but also a 20-year-old personal feud between Papandreou, 66, and Constantine Mitsotakis, 67, the parliamentary oppo-

sition leader. Although the results are expected to be close, some Western diplomats and many Greek political analysts doubt that Papandreou will survive the aggressive squeeze from Mitsotakis’s rejuvenated New Democracy on the right and from the Moscoworiented Communist Party of Greece (KKE), led by Harilaos Florakis, on the left.

Last year the Socialist vote for European Parliament elections dropped 6.5 per cent from the 48 per cent it registered in the last national election of October, 1981, when the Socialists won 172 seats, New Democracy 115 and the Communists 13 in the 300-seat parliament. Said independent pollster Panayiotis Dimitras: “The way the current campaign is going, Pasok’s 1984 lead may be reversed.”

Indeed, Papandreou’s once-efficient election machine has faltered this spring. Although 40,000 crammed the new Palais du Sport in Athens to hear Papandreou at a women’s rally in midMay, many were indignant that the prime minister was 90 minutes late. Said one housewife: “I’m not voting for a man who hasn’t the manners to be punctual.” The next weekend Papandreou disappointed thousands when he cancelled a visit to the Aegean island of Lesbos because of bad weather. In between, in the mainland port city of Pa-

tras, tens of thousands turned out to hear an uninhibited attack on Mitsotakis. As a battery of microphones carried his voice above a cacophony of exploding fireworks, Papandreou castigated Mitsotakis, who hired U.S. campaign advisers, as a “discard from the scrap heap of history, the agent of foreign interests, a wandering Jew.”

New Democracy’s leader delivered a telling riposte the following day. A flagwaving crowd filled the centre of Salonika—Greece’s second-largest city—to hear him accuse Papandreou of bankrupting the economy and reneging on many of his 1981 campaign pledges. As Socialist strategists privately worried about Mitsotakis’s success as a crowdpuller, Papandreou abruptly cancelled a scheduled press conference and disappeared from public view for three days, sparking rumors of illness.

But another line of speculation—that he had taken time out to conduct an urgent strategy review—seemed equally credible. Critics traced the roots of the problems plaguing the Socialist campaign to the party’s organizational difficulties in office. Lacking a carefully crafted legislative program, Papandreou’s government too often found itself in the embarrassing position of having to change its ambitious plans for reform. Said a Western European diplomat in Athens: “People simply do not

believe what they are told any more.”

Key elements in the process of disillusionment have been his failure to meet promises to take Greece out of the 10nation European Community and the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization and to order four U.S. military bases off Greek soil. To the pragmatic Papandreou, his decisions offered important economic gains. Last year Greece received European Community agricultural subsidies worth $800 million (U.S.), a vital ingredient in the government’s drive to modernize the country’s farming base. Athens will also receive an additional $1.6 billion over the next seven years in other grants, Papandreou’s price for agreeing to allow Portugal and Spain into the Community. The U.S. bases agreement, which Papandreou

still insists will lead to -

their withdrawal by 1988, provides another $500 million a year.

But the political price has been high. No fewer than five Socialist members of parliament have defected to Florakis’s Communists. Sensing the chance of

making further converts, the Communists are wooing Socialist voters aggressively. One of its slogans, in a derisive reference to Papandreou’s 1981 promise of change, says: “If you want a real change, vote KKE.”

But for wavering voters in the political centre, an estimated 15 per cent of the population, the event that crystallized doubts about Papandreou was his surprise March ouster of the conservative Constantine Karamanlis from the presidency, a move apparently intended to strengthen his Socialist base and clear the way for changes limiting the head of state’s powers. Many citizens viewed Karamanlis as the country’s guarantor of political moderation—a brake § on Papandreou’s anti2 Western policies, if not 5; his rhetoric. His removal, followed by the election of former Supreme Court judge Christos Sartzetakis and constitutional changes ending the president’s power to dismiss a prime minister, could cost Pasok a second term. Charged Virginia Tsouderou, a former Papandreou adviser running on the New

Democracy ticket: “Papandreou wants a dictatorship under cover of democracy.” Added New Democracy strategist Andreas Andrianopolos: “The Karamanlis case has played a major role in cracking the credibility of the government.”

Seeking to capitalize on the perceived vulnerability of the Socialists, Mitsotakis has focused on the government’s policy switches and its management of the economy. Unemployment has climbed five percentage points, to 8.5 per cent, and private investment has been virtually stagnant for a decade. To restore economic stability, Mitsotakis proposes sharp cuts in government spending, the adoption of a free market economy and lower taxes. Middle-ofthe-road voters, who helped elect Papandreou’s party in 1981, are suspicious of Socialist foreign policy. Its platform pledges both political and military disengagement from the West and a national defence based on the premise that its own NATO ally, Turkey—not the Warsaw Pact—is the principal threat to peace. Says New Democracy’s campaign manager, Stefanos Manos: “The difference between us and them is like day and night.”

For his part, Papandreou strongly defends his party’s record in government. The Socialists, he boasts, reduced the annual inflation rate to 18 per cent from 25 per cent and protected incomes with a wage-indexation policy. Papandreou also claims other achievements, among them the legalization of civil marriage, the decriminalization of adultery and the improvement of rural incomes to lure more people out of Greece’s overcrowded cities.

The so-called swing voters in the middle of the political spectrum faced a difficult choice in weighing the virtues and weaknesses of the two main rivals. Mitsotakis has recruited youthful candidates (average age about 45), striving to create a centrist ideology in tune with the 1980s. But Mitsotakis himself is an old-style politician, a former cabinet minister still known as the “Godfather of Crete,” his birthplace. His opponents recall that he walked out of a centrist government led by George Papandreou, father of Andreas, precipitating a political crisis in 1967 that ended with a military coup and seven years of rule by a junta of Greek colonels.

But he survived a decade in the political wilderness, and his reception on the campaign trail suggests that many voters have forgiven earlier indiscretions. By contrast, Papandreou projects the aura of a fallen idol. The strains of office have clearly aged him. Compromises and setbacks have chipped much of the patina from his old image as a crusading reformer. Conceded one Socialist campaign worker: “We are enthusiasts, but we are also realists.”^