It was March 7, 2004, when an unexpected triumph for the centre-right party of New Democracy took place, setting an end to the reign of the Socialists (PASOK) in Greece, who had run the country for twenty years after 1981. Fletcher PhD holder, Constantinos Karamanlis was the Prime Minister who led the country to the 2004 Olympic Games and undertook an extensive reformative agenda in the fields of education, public administration and energy policy. He managed to pass laws with regard to the restructuring of the Greek -exclusively public- Universities and Public administrative services under the strong objections of the opposition who encouraged general strikes by the labour unions. He also promoted a 'Non-aligned'-style approach in the energy policies and tied Greece with the Russian interests in respect to the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline. Following pressure from the public opinion polls, he resisted to the US pressures as regards the admission of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia in the NATO alliance (although a 'veto' was not officially lodged contrary to the erroneous perception), a development that further deteriorated the US-Greek relations. Nevertheless, one of his major achievements that cost him his re-election today, was the fact that he expressly refused to co-operate with the right-wing party of LAOS, putting aside a scenario of extremists assuming cabinet positions in order to simply prolong a slight parliamentary majority.
George Papandreou will be his successor in the Maximou Mansion being a 3rd generation Prime Minister, following his father Andreas Papandreou and his grand-father Georgios Papandreou. He holds a dual nationality (US-Greek) and has studied several years in the US. He proposed a new financial policy and a reformation of the tax system, imposing higher taxes on banks and corporations, as well as individuals with incomes exceeding $45,000. Although Greece had until 2008 experienced high growth rates (substantially higher than the EU average) and historical low levels of unemployment (7% in 2007 for a country facing 15% unemployment in 1994), George Papandreou accused the previous administration's policies for the economic turmoil that hit Greece this year and entered into promises to various social classes that is really doubtable whether he will be able to live up to them.
The Greek Conservative Party, New Democracy, will now face a Congressional Meeting that will lead to the appointment of the new party's leader, after the resignation of Constantinos Karamanlis following the devastating loss of today's general parliamentary elections. Dora Bakoyianni, Foreign Minister for the last three years, and Antonios Samaras, Minister of Culture, will be competing for the leadership. Dimitris Avraamopoulos, Minister of Health Services, is also expected to run for the position, although the odds currently show him to be a slight underdog and, for the time being, not among the favourites. Samaras has a more populist profile and does not hesitate to take a more nationalist approach on foreign issues. On the other hand, Bakoyianni is more appealing to the voters comprising the so-called 'middle area' that have no permanent ties with any of the two governing parties. Avraamopoulos has a rather similar profile to Bakoyianni, although he has no strong support in the conservative party.
Being a member of the Conservative party and a personal adherent of Constantinos Karamanlis, I must admit that I find Bakoyianni's candidacy attractive for a number of reasons. Her less populist profile, her service in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and her origins are her main advantages that come along with a traditional support from a considerable constituency of the party. She also tends to address issues that are of concern to the majority of Greeks and avoids assuming the extremists' views with regard to the Greek-Turkish relations and other pending Greek foreign affairs' issues.
It will certainly be very interesting to watch the new approach of the Socialists with regard to the country's international relations. New Democracy took a rather defensive approach, whereas PASOK is supposed to undertake proactive attitudes towards the disturbed relations with Turkey and FYROM, as well as with regard to the Cyprus problem. A new era in the US-Greek relations is also introduced by the appointment of a Prime Minister that expressly has a pro-US mentality, not to mention again the fact that he holds a US passport. PASOK will have 160 seats in the 300-seats Greek parliament (unicameral system) and will form a government on its own, without the need for an alliance with the moderate Left party of Syriza.