WORLD

Scandal and stalemate

An election creates a modern Greek drama

JOHN BIERMAN July 3 1989
WORLD

Scandal and stalemate

An election creates a modern Greek drama

JOHN BIERMAN July 3 1989

Scandal and stalemate

WORLD

GREECE

An election creates a modern Greek drama

The Greeks have a word for it: katharsis. It means a thorough cleansing-which is what conservative New Democracy party leader Constantine Mitsotakis promised the Greek electorate if it voted the scandalplagued Panhellenic Socialist Movement out of office in the June. 18 general election. But although the voters did just that, giving New Democracy 44 per cent of the poll and forcing PASOK prime minister Andreas Papandreou to resign after eight years in power, they left the conservatives six seats short of a parliamenta ry majority. And when Mitsotakis predictably failed last week to persuade the far-left third force in Greek politics to join an interim coali tion to perform the promised cleanup, that left Greece in a state for which the Anglo-Saxons have a word: deadlock.

The next move in a complex constitutional game was for the discredited Papandreou to try to coax Harilaos Florakis, the Communist leader of the Coalition of Leftist and Progressive Forces, to share power with him. PASOK’s 125 seats and the leftist coalition’s 28 would add up to a slender majority in the 300-seat parliament. But before he could open negotiations with Florakis, the 70-year-old Papandreou—who underwent major heart surgery last year—was stricken with pneumonia and rushed to hospital, making his chances of success even flimsier. Although the far left might normally consider PASOK a natural ally, sharing power with Papandreou at this point would also mean sharing the odium of the sexual and financial scandals that have swirled around him and his administration for months. And with Papandreou’s health once more in doubt, it seemed likely that Greece would soon have to go to the polls again—possibly as early as September.

Until waves of scandal began to break around him a year ago, Papandreou had seemed assured of a third term. Then his longrumored liaison with Dimitra (Mimi) Liani, a former air hostess half his age, became public knowledge. Opposition newspapers published nude photographs of Liani, while the infatuated Papandreou sued his 65-year-old, U.S.-born wife, Margaret, for a divorce that was finalized one day after the election. Next to break was a long-simmering scandal involving George Koskotas, the owner of the Bank of Crete, and the misuse of $252 million in government funds— much of which allegedly ended up in the pockets of Papandreou’s colleagues and friends. Indeed, Koskotas, 34—who fled Greece last November and is currently in jail in the United States awaiting trial on a variety of charges—

has threatened to produce hard evidence incriminating Papandreou himself. Papandreou tried to dismiss the Bank of Crete scandal as a CIA plot to discredit him because of his declared opposition to the maintenance of U.S. military bases in Greece. But, clearly, a significant number of Greek voters did not accept that explanation. Despite Papandreou’s solid support in rural districts, his government’s control of radio and television, and the lack of charisma of his main opponent, Mitsotakis,

his party’s share of the vote fell to 39 per cent from 46 per cent in 1985. Unbowed, Papandreou tried to give those results a positive spin. “The Greek people gave a majority to the

democratic progressive forces and excluded the Right from returning to power,” he said. Meanwhile, Mitsotakis’s failure to win more than 145 seats, despite his advantages, earned him the criticism of many in his own party. Still, he declared: “The Greek people in their overwhelming majority have condemned the PASOK government and its scandals and corruption.” In fact, it was Florakis’s leftist coalition, finishing a distant third, that emerged from

the election with enhanced political power. Because of a new electoral system, under which it doubled its representation in parliament without increasing its share of the vote, the coalition cracked the two-party pattern of Greek politics and emerged as a key power broker. Yielding to the temptation to join a coalition government would give the Communists a share of power in Greece for the first time in decades. And that added another twist to the plot of the Greek drama playing to an enthralled po-

litical audience in Athens last week.

JOHN BIERMAN

PETER THOMPSON