Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2004

Familiar feeling about Greek elections

By Richard Galpin
BBC correspondent in Athens

A pedestrian passes huge posters of New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis (top) and Pasok leader George Papandreou
Karamanlis (top) and Papandreou both come from traditional political bloodlines

The election in Greece this Sunday is being described as a battle between the country's two royal families.

The main contenders - the head of the governing Socialist party, George Papandreou, and the conservative opposition leader Costas Karamanlis - are the current generation of the two most powerful political dynasties in Greece, which have dominated the country since the 1950s.

Both Mr Papandreou's father and grandfather were national leaders, as was the uncle of Mr Karamanlis.

But they are only the tip of the iceberg.

Around 70 candidates running in this election are sons, daughters or close relatives of sitting or former MPs. Around 12% of all outgoing MPs had a politician parent.

"Political career within the family is a very strong phenomenon in Greece, where politics is exerted as a profession," political analyst Ilias Nikolakopoulos told AFP news agency.

Critics fear the country is sliding towards a hereditary democracy - not helped by a recent law obliging politicians to quit their jobs before taking their seat.

Others say family coaching in the art of government can only be a good thing for future leaders.

When voters go to the polls on Sunday it will be the sixth time that the Papandreou and Karamanlis families have confronted each other for the right to rule.

"Fine, I understand that historically it looks like a joke," Mr Karamanlis told the BBC, "but very, very clearly I believe it's just a coincidence... and let's not lose the real question we face.

"What will happen in Greece the day after the election, what policy will we follow?"

'No hope'

It is a question which many voters are also asking after a campaign which has been dominated as much by personalities and style as substance.

For the electorate there are very real issues which need to be addressed - almost all of them economic.

Andreas Papandreou, left,  in 1993 and Konstantine Karamanlis in 1995
Forebears: Andreas Papandreou, left, and Konstantine Karamanlis

At the top of the list are unemployment, which has remained stubbornly high at 9% of the work-force, and the rise in the cost of the living since the introduction of the Euro two years ago.

"There's no hope for us," said a shoe-maker who has been without work for the past five years, "and it's not just my sector I've been looking in to find employment, it's also other sectors. There's just no work."

We were standing outside the busy unemployment office in central Athens.

But what did he feel the Socialist party had done for people like him during its past 20 years in government?

"They've done nothing for the Greek worker, in fact they've done even worse than that, they've frightened off some foreign companies which have taken their investments to Turkey."

I don't believe in anyone, no-one is telling the truth
Greek voter

Anxiety about the future is also evident in very different areas of the economy such as the construction industry.

"All the people involved in the construction business feel very insecure about the future," says architect Caterina Apostolou who has been working with one of the country's largest building firms, "especially once the Olympics are over... People are already losing their jobs."

Observers say that, ironically, during the past two decades of Socialist government, there has been a widening of the gap between rich and poor as well as under-funding of essential public services such as health and education.

"But the critical issue is corruption," says John Psaropoulos, editor of the paper Athens News.

"The Socialists are perceived more than ever... as having entrenched themselves and doing more special favours for their friends than caring about the people at large."

Platform parallels

So, sensing their best opportunity to take power for more than a decade, the opposition conservatives have been positioning themselves as the party which will look after the interests of ordinary people - a strategy which has helped give them a three-point lead in the opinion polls.

They are pledging to eliminate corruption, streamline the bureaucracy, cut personal and corporate taxes, attract far more foreign investment and improve the health and education services.

All of this, they say, will boost the economy and create more jobs.

But the new Socialist leader George Papandreou, who replaced the prime minister last month to try to revive the party's electoral hopes, is also making many similar pledges.

He has also gone so far as to promise to double pensions for farmers who form an important part of the electorate.


But does anybody believe what they are being told by the two dominant political parties?

Scepticism seems to be in abundance.

After one recent rally by the conservatives, we came across a busy cafe right behind the main stage.

Many of the customers had stayed inside drinking, smoking and playing cards throughout the rally despite the fireworks, loud music and speeches just a few metres away in the square.

"I don't believe in anyone, no-one is telling the truth," said one man, "and in the end they won't implement anything from their programmes.

"They want our votes now, but after the election they will forget me and the rest of the people."

Profile: George Papandreou
05 Oct 09 |  Europe
Greece PM calls March elections
07 Jan 04 |  Europe
Greek socialists name Papandreou
09 Feb 04 |  Europe
Obituary: Konstantine Karamanlis
23 Apr 98 |  Obituaries
Country profile: Greece
29 Feb 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Greece
08 Feb 04 |  Country profiles

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