Greek governing party set to win 2nd term

Posted in Democracy , Other , Europe | 17-Sep-07 | Author: Anthee Carassava| Source: International Herald Tribune

Greek conservative party leader and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis waves to supporters during a rally in Athens September 14, 2007.

ATHENS: The center-right party of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis appeared to have won a second term in power in Greek parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The vote seemed to be an endorsement of the social and economic changes he has carried out, despite widespread anger over his handling of recent disastrous wildfires that left more than 60 people dead and burned half a million acres of farmland.

With more than 88 percent of the votes counted, early returns showed Karamanlis's party, New Democracy, with 42.6 percent. The rival Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok, which was defeated in 2004 after almost 20 years of uninterrupted rule, had 38.4 percent.

Under a complex new voting system that awards most seats on the basis of the proportion of the vote the party receives, New Democracy was expected to win at least 154 seats in the 300-seat Parliament.

The Socialist leader, George Papandreou, conceded defeat early Monday, six hours after the first results signaled that his party would lose. "The people have decided," he said. "The verdict will be respected."

Three minutes later, a beaming Karamanlis, 51, arrived at the election headquarters, claiming a victory that he described as "a strong mandate for a new and more dynamic beginning."

Voting is compulsory in Greece and turnout among the estimated 10 million voters was high despite forecasts of voter apathy.

For decades, Greece has gone back and forth between the two main parties, each dominated by a political dynasty to which its leader belongs, and each on a system that favored patronage and party interests. In recent years, and as Greece anchored its interests more firmly to the European Union and Western alliances, the parties have found it difficult to differentiate themselves ideologically.

A far-right party, the Popular Orthodox Rally, had 3.6 percent of the vote. If the final results give it enough votes to pass the 3 percent minimum for entry into Parliament, it would be the first time a far-right party has entered Parliament since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. The party's leader, Giorgos Karatzaferis, a former conservative stalwart whom Karamanlis expelled from his party in 2000 for making extremist statements, benefited from voters who were unhappy with both parties, based on what voters on the streets said.

A canny, cigar-chomping lawyer, Karamanlis retained a consistent lead against the Socialists despite a bond-trading scandal and relatively austere economic changes made by his government since he took office nearly four years ago. The catastrophic fires, however, and accusations that the government's response to them was slow and inept, put him on the defensive.

In response, he put into effect a compensation plan for the victims, and promised to rebuild homes. He also proposed new measures for bigger pensions and tax breaks and threatened to call another election if his party did not win an outright majority.