Financial Times (EU)
of Conservatives' triumph stuns Greece
By Kerin Hope
March 8, 2004
Costas Karamanlis, who is due to be sworn in as Greece's prime minister on
Wednesday has brought the conservatives back to power with a bang.
Candidates and campaign workers alike appeared stunned on Monday by the
extent of New Democracy's landslide win in Sunday's general election.
"New Democracy ran an effective campaign, but the key factor seems to be
that voters were thoroughly fed up with the Socialists," said Theodore
Coloumbis of Eliamep, an Athens think-tank.
Near-final results gave ND 45.4 per cent of the vote to 40.5 per cent for the
Panhellenic Socialist Movement, a significantly wider margin than most pollsters
had predicted. The conservatives will have 165 seats in the 300-seat parliament
to 117 for the Socialists, with the remaining seats going to two small leftwing
At 47, Mr Karamanlis will be Greece's youngest leader for more than a century
and one of its most inexperienced. With ND in power for only three of the past
22 years, Mr Karamanlis has spent his entire political career on the back
benches or in opposition.
But he has built a reputation as a streetwise politician. After the
Socialists conceded defeat, he was quick to highlight the need for consensus
over the reunification of Cyprus and the Olympic Games, due to open in August.
"United and all together, we'll fight for a just and viable solution to
the Cyprus problem, and to make the Olympics the best and safest games
ever," he said.
The nephew and namesake of the prime minister who negotiated Greece's entry
in 1981 to the then European Economic Community, Mr Karamanlis was propelled
into the party leadership on the strength of his name.
His background is typical of Greece's conservative elite. Trained in Athens
as a lawyer, he earned a doctorate in international relations at Tufts
University in the US and took over a safe parliamentary seat in Thessaloniki, an
At first, Mr Karamanlis struggled to seize control of ND from a group of
elderly power brokers that included former party leaders. But after seven years
in the leadership, he has succeeded in pushing aside most of the older
generation and distancing himself from the party's nationalist faction.
During the campaign, Mr Karamanlis pledged that if elected he would
personally fight in Brussels to prevent cuts in subsidies for Greek farmers
producing cotton, olive oil and tobacco.
But the most urgent foreign policy issue he faces is the March 22 deadline
set by Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, for a settlement on
As opposition leader, Mr Karamanlis spoke in favour of building closer
Greek-Turkish ties. He has built a personal relationship with Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, aimed at mirroring the one developed by
George Papandreou, the Socialist leader.
Mr Erdogan on Monday welcomed Mr Karamanlis's election win and made clear he
was prepared to give a push to the UN-sponsored talks on reunifying Cyprus ahead
of its EU accession in May. The Turkish prime minister has made clear he is
prepared to offer a land-for-peace deal to speed a settlement.
Mr Karamanlis and his foreign policy team, due to be announced on Tuesday,
will come under immediate pressure to take a position on Cyprus.
Greece's role may include persuading the Greek Cypriot community to accept
the UN proposals for reunification, which have to be approved in separate
referendums by each community.
Three separate opinion polls published in Cyprus at the weekend showed
between 53 and 63 per cent of Greek Cypriots would vote against reunification.
This compared with a poll of Turkish Cypriots showing 56 per cent in favour of
the current UN proposals.