On October 4, Greek voters gave the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), led by George Papandreou, a resounding mandate for change. In the mainly-proportional electoral system, PASOK won an outright majority with 160 seats out of 300, on a vote share of 43.9 per cent. This marks a huge defeat for the incumbent New Democracy party and its leader Kostas Karamanlis. He had called a mid-term election in face of the perceived challenges such as the economic crisis, high-level corruption scandals, and widespread rioting over the police killing of a 15-year-old boy in Athens in December 2008. The incoming government inherits a situation in which the national debt is greater than the GDP, a budget deficit at about 6 per cent of economic output, extensive tax evasion, and public institutions noted for wasteful spending. Mr. Papandreou’s political inheritance — he is the third in his family to become prime minister — will be one of his assets. But in the present context, he has other and probably stronger ones. Born in the United States and educated at the London School of Economics and Harvard, Mr. Papandreou prefers to work for a consensus on most issues, and in general has a manner and style closer to that of Northern European or Scandinavian social democrats. He also has a record of political achievement; as foreign minister in the 1990s, he brought about major improvements in Greece’s long-troubled relations with Turkey and Albania. In addition, his position within PASOK has been greatly strengthened by his victory in a fierce leadership dispute that followed a second successive election defeat in 2007.
The new prime minister promises to clean up and reform government, to crack down on tax fraud, and to deal with illegal immigration. Mr. Papandreou also has the larger task of restoring trust in public life and institutions, and much will depend on the success or otherwise of his €3 billion stimulus package. He will, however, be under pressure. The European Union may grant the two-year extension he seeks in order to reduce the budget deficit by 50 per cent, but will demand pension reforms which will need assent from powerful public-service unions. Secondly, corruption and waste are endemic in Greek political life irrespective of the party in government. But other recent developments may well help PASOK. The party has regained votes on its left; and, in September, the centre-left Portuguese prime minister, José Socrates, held on to win the general election. Mr. Papandreou can draw strength from the fact that Southern European voters are looking left for stability, probity, and leadership.
The expansion of PANSOK is the Panhellenic Socialist Movement. “Greece turns left” (Editorial, October 10, 2009) had it as the Panhellenic Socialist Party.