Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2004

Analysis: New era for Greek politics

By Richard Galpin
BBC correspondent in Athens

Greek President Constantinos Stephanopoulos has asked the conservative leader Costas Karamanlis to form the next government after his New Democracy party won a sweeping victory in Sunday's general election.

Costas Karamanlis with wife Natassa
Costas Karamanlis will be Greece's youngest-ever premier

"This is a victory for democracy," said the conservative leader and now prime minister-in-waiting Costas Karamanlis. "We've been handed a mandate to move the country forward."

His election victory does represent the beginning of a new era in Greek politics which for the past two decades have been dominated by the socialist party, Pasok.

It had governed the country for all but three years since 1981. But this was part of the reason for its downfall.

At one polling station in central Athens, former Pasok supporters openly admitted they were switching to the conservatives simply because they felt the country needed a change of government.

Our past was full of mistakes
George Papandreou
Socialist leader

"It's a bad thing to have the same government for 20 years," said one man.

But beyond that there was real frustration with the former socialist government for failing to deliver on many of the main issues facing ordinary people such as unemployment, inflation, low wages, low pensions and deteriorating education and health services.

And there was a widespread perception amongst the population that the government had become more interested in helping its friends in the business world rather than fulfilling pledges to the bulk of its supporters around the country.

"Our past was full of mistakes," said the socialist leader George Papandreou as he admitted defeat on Sunday night.

'A fresh start'

Mr Papandreou became party leader only last month, replacing the outgoing prime minister in a desperate attempt to stem the flood of traditional socialist supporters defecting to other parties as the election approached.

George Papandreou
Papandreou had an uphill struggle to win back support

"We knew we had to make a fresh start," said Mr Papandreou, "but there was too little time to convince people that we were sincere in our attempt to transform the party."

The pledges he made during the election campaign to improve the quality of life for ordinary people fell on deaf ears.

On the other hand, it was comparatively easy for the conservative leader Dr Karamanlis to exploit this wave of negativity towards the government.

He focused his campaign on the issues preoccupying the electorate.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs," he pronounced at campaign rallies as he pledged to cut the unemployment rate from 9% to 6%.

The preparations for the Olympics in Athens this August will be one of the first big tests for the new government
BBC's Richard Galpin

He said he would achieve this by increasing the economic growth rate through public and foreign investments, incentives for businesses and market deregulation.

He also promised action to stop arbitrary price increases - a common phenomenon since the introduction of the euro two years ago.

And he said there'd be a crackdown on corruption.

'Poisoned chalice'

His list of promises to the electorate is very long and will not be easy to fulfil given the structural weaknesses in the economy.

There are fears, for example, that unemployment could get worse once the Olympic Games finish in six months' time.

The current high economic growth rate in the country is fuelled by the billions of euros being spent on the construction of Olympic venues and public transport systems.

The preparations for the Olympics in Athens this August will be one of the first big tests for the new government.

The conservatives are inheriting a poisoned chalice. The delays in finishing some of the most important projects - such as the main stadium - are now becoming critical.

Very soon after being sworn in this week, the new government will have to make some tough decisions about whether to cancel some prestige projects such as the giant, futuristic and massively expensive roof over the main stadium.

Greek socialists swept from power
08 Mar 04 |  Europe
'Shock and awe' in Greek media
08 Mar 04 |  Europe
Old hands embrace modern Greece
06 Mar 04 |  Europe
Neck-and-neck race in Greek vote
05 Mar 04 |  Europe
Profile: George Papandreou
05 Oct 09 |  Europe
Country profile: Greece
29 Feb 04 |  Country profiles

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