Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 19:59:41 -0500 (CDT)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>
Subject: [balkanhr] AIM: Are Greek Socialists On the Way Out?
Article: 68444
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Are Greek Socialists On the Way Out?

By Panayote Dimitras, Greek Helsinki Monitor, AIM Athens, 23 June 1999

The Greek socialist party PASOK, of Prime Minister Costas Simitis, ran second with 33% in the 13 June European elections, lagging 3% behind current conservative opposition New Democracy (ND) of Costas Karamanlis. Many people interpreted this result, though in a second-order election, as a harbinger of another PASOK defeat, this time in the most crucial parliamentary election of 2000. This may well happen, but only because of the particular electoral system that Greece has which secures an outright parliamentary majority to the first party even if it receives 30% of the votes. Otherwise, there is no popular majority to the right of PASOK.

In fact, if PASOK lost 8,5% compared with the preceding 1996 parliamentary elections, ND also lost 2%, as minor parties gained once more in such a second-order election. This was a reason why ND was not so elated with the results. Moreover, the global vote to the right of PASOK remained stable at 41%. Besides ND's 36%, the nationalist Political Spring—that had split away from ND in 1993—got 2,5% (0,5% less than in 1996); the new splinter party of the Liberals—formed in May 1999—secured 1,5%; while three extreme right parties received 1%. None of these smaller parties could secure any parliamentary representation, as there is a 3% threshold in the national and in the Euroelections.

PASOK's losses benefited the smaller—apolitical or extreme left—protest parties that received altogether 5,5% instead of 2,5%; but also two of the three parliamentary parties of the left, the traditional communist KKE -that rose from 5,5% to 8,5%- and the socialist splinter DIKKI -that also rose from 4,5% to 7%. Only one party remained stable, the Progressive Left Coalition, at 5%. So, the global forces of the center-left, the left and the extreme left reached 54,5%, the highest percentage in Europe. So, if Greece has a chance to see a conservative government emerging from the 2000 elections, it will be due to the fact that the smaller leftist parties can take away from PASOK many more votes than the smaller center-right can take away from ND. In fact, chances are that Political Spring, the party of hard-liner former ND foreign minister Antonis Samaras, may vanish after its second failure to exceed the threshold (it missed it by a few thousand votes in 1996).

No one can predict with certainty whether PASOK can win back the voters that switched to KKE and DIKKI. Both parties ran nationalist and populist campaigns, capitalizing on the prevailing anti-Western (and usually pro-Serbian if not pro-Milosevic) mood of Greek public opinion. KKE even boosted its chances by signing on two tenors of reactionary nationalism, journalist Liana Kanelli (erstwhile a conservative) and sociologist and self-proclaimed “Master of the Nation” Costas Zouraris (a former Eurocommunist turned supremacist). The Greeks' nationalist reactions to the Ocalan capture by the Turks soon after he had left the Greek Embassy in Kenya and, especially, to the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia played a key role for these swings to the left.

PASOK hopes that, in 2000, these factors will be marginalized and most of these voters will return to it, in the face of the possibility that voting for KKE or DIKKI could contribute to the return of “the worse of the two evils,” ND, to power. It could also possibly hope that it could gain some votes away from the Coalition, for similar reasons. However, that will necessitate an aggressive attitude towards these parties to help undermine their ideological underpinning. When the Simitis government was accused for having “sold out” Greece's interests in the Ocalan and the Yugoslav issues, it did not engage in a consistent campaign to explain its choices and how they served the country's interests; instead, it campaigned mainly against ND reminding the voters of its comparative better record. Also, its tight economic policy aiming at helping the country join the “euro” group and its generally enthusiastic pro-EU and pro-NATO policies have not yet made the Greek public share the pro-European and pro-Western convictions of its government. Simitis is certainly trapped in the anti-Wetsren sentiment that PASOK, under its predecessor Andreas Papandreou, helped solidify in Greece. It is not possible though that the “reluctant Europeanism” of the Greek public can help keep PASOK in power; or make any similar policies of a possible future conservative government more successful.

The alarming trend towards the strengthening of populist, anti-European parties was facilitated by the campaign of the Coalition. There was a time when this party (or its predecessor Greek Left) was known for championing the European cause even more than the country's two main parties. The change of leadership after the electoral defeat of 1993 (when the party failed to reach the 3% threshold) brought at its head a very popular politician, Nikos Constantopoulos, who, though, lacked the commitment of its party to Europe. In 1996, the party received a respectable 5%, just behind the KKE and ahead of DIKKI. After that, though, the party started following a more populist strategy: for example, it opted to abstain from the ratification vote for the Treaty of Amsterdam. This year, it joined the populist and nationalist reactions during the Ocalan crisis, while after the NATO strikes began, its leader was the first Western leader to rush to Belgrade, meet with and offer his unconditional support to Milosevic, and utter no word for the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Constantopoulos thought it would rip the benefits of such strategy in the polls, but as many observers agreed, it only helped increase the vote potential of the “genuine” anti-Western party, the KKE.

The latter's unquestionable success makes the need to clarify the country's European choices even greater. KKE, with its nationalist allies, have reached a percentage reminiscent of its pre-1989 results. This “red-brown” convergence plans to organize a “popular movement” aiming at exerting pressure on the government to reorient its policies away from the West. It aims at allying with DIKKI and even winning the support of the Coalition, whose “Left Current” -made up mostly of former KKE members- appears favorable to such choices. If such a strong “patriotic and anti-imperialist” front emerges, PASOK has the choice to fight it outright so as to discredit it (such choice was never the strong point of the low key prime minister) or to move towards its direction so as to minimize potential electoral losses, thus jeopardizing Greece's future.

Whichever attitude Costas Simitis chooses, it has to show swift effects. The Greek Parliament has to elect a new President of the Republic in February 2000. Such election requires a 3/5 majority, which means an agreement between ND and PASOK. Such outcome is unlikely and, according to the constitution, new parliamentary elections will then be held in March 2000. PASOK has, therefore, less than nine months for the battle it will fight in its effort to stay in power. A battle it will engage mainly on its left to avoid losing power to the right.