- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis won a second term in Greece’s parliamentary elections yesterday, but his party will have a slimmer majority in parliament.

Mr. Karamanlis declared victory after his main opponent Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party leader George Papandreou, conceded defeat.

“You have given a clear mandate to New Democracy to continue the changes and reforms which the country needs,” Mr. Karamanlis said, referring to his party, in a televised address to the nation. “I will do my utmost to honor your confidence as prime minister of all Greeks.”

The election results indicated New Democracy would win enough seats in the 300-member parliament to form a governing majority after the elections.

With 94 percent of the votes counted, New Democracy party was ahead with 42.2 percent, while PASOK had 38.2 percent.

New Democracy was likely to win 153 of the 300 seats in parliament, compared to 165 in the outgoing legislature, the results showed. PASOK looked set to win just 103 seats in parliament — the lowest number it has held since 1977.

Mr. Karamanlis, whose party was dogged by its poor response to the wildfires that killed 65 persons and ravaged whole villages last month, had warned that if his party failed to win a decisive majority, he would call new elections.

Mr. Papandreou, in a final attempt to capitalize on the fires, had pledged to name an environment-conscious Cabinet.

“The people have chosen and their decision is respected. PASOK fought hard but it did not succeed,” he said after the election.

Mr. Karamanlis, for his part, had asked for a “clear mandate” that would allow the party to continue its economic reforms without seeking a coalition. New Democracy was brought to power in 2004 after more than 20 years of socialist rule.

Yesterday’s vote was the result of the government’s decision to call snap elections six months earlier than necessary. The response to the subsequent outbreak of fires in the Peloponnesus Peninsula was thought to have alienated many New Democracy supporters.

“The fires shocked the nation,” said Theodore Couloumbis of the ELIAMEP research institute in Athens.

According to Kathimerini, a conservative Athens daily, there has been “a marked increase in support of parties at the extremes of the political spectrum. … It is clear that the country’s political elite is in dire need of reshuffle. More than three years of New Democracy rule has proved that certain ministers are blatantly incapable of crisis management.”

Six political parties have submitted candidates for the 300-member “Vouli,” or parliament. According to a 2004 electoral law implemented for the first time in the current election, 260 seats will be divided among political parties according to the number of votes received, and the remaining 40 will go to the party with the most seats.

Political parties must obtain at least 3 percent of the vote countrywide to qualify for parliament seats.

Voting in Greece is compulsory, but penalties for absenteeism have not been applied in recent years.

Of the smaller parties, pollsters predicted a strong impact by the Coalition of the Radical Left, whose leader, Alekos Alavanos, said: “We have had enough of the misery that accompanies the change of power between the two main parties. … The political map has to change in these elections.”

Despite economic reforms introduced in the past three years, Greece receives a low rating on the European Union scale of prosperity.

c This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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