September 18, 2007


Greek PM Faces New Challenges (ANTHEE CARASSAVA, 9/18/07, TIME)

For decades, power in Greece has gone back and forth between two main political parties dominated by two political dynasties that have divided Greeks, sometimes bitterly so. In recent years, though, and as Greece anchored its interests deeper into the European Union, both parties have found it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from each other ideologically.

A canny, cigar-chomping lawyer, Karamanlis retained a consistent lead against the socialists despite a bond-trading scandal and relatively austere economic reforms that his government implemented since taking office nearly four years ago. The catastrophic fires, however, and widespread accusations of what was seen as a slow and inept state response, cast him on a sudden defensive. Facing his biggest test of leadership, Karamanlis ditched the campaign trail to manage the crisis, pushing through a fast compensation plan for victims and vowing to rebuild all burned homes. He then unveiled a flurry of financial incentives, including higher pensions and tax breaks, and threatened to take Greeks on another trip to the polls if his New Democracy party failed to win an outright majority in parliament. That carrot-and-stick strategy, said analysts, put voters at a clear crossroads, weighing Karamanlis' stolid leadership and economic successes against their yearning for a protest vote that could spell a return to socialist rule, or political turmoil. "Ultimately, voters picked the candidate they had the greatest faith in," said Maria Karakliouni of RASS-MARC polling agency.

Even so, Sunday's vote left conservatives with a shrunken parliamentary majority that may leave the new government vulnerable to interests that oppose programs seen essential to keep pace with European Union partners. "Of course we would have wanted a bigger, more comfortable majority," said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative lawmaker. "But the size of the majority will not affect how effective our government will be." New Democracy held 165 of the 300 seats in the outgoing parliament. Karamanlis, who describes himself a "compassionate conservative," called for an early trip to the ballot box ahead of the August wildfires, seeking a fresh mandate for crucial social and economic changes.

Compassionate conservative government and two indistinguishable parties--such is politics at the End of History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2007 12:00 AM
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