- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — On election day, the Papandreou name failed to work its old magic. Now, Greece’s best-known political dynasty could face extinction after a half-century affair with power.

Shocked out of their usual voting patterns by the summer’s unprecedented wildfires, Greeks dealt a blow to both major parties on Sunday, switching support to smaller groups.

But the socialists fared by far the worst, clocking their poorest result in 30 years, while the conservatives were narrowly re-elected.

George Papandreou — who heads the PASOK party founded by his late father, the anti-U.S. firebrand Andreas Papandreou — had barely finished his concession speech when he faced a challenge to his party leadership. The 55-year-old son and grandson of Greek prime ministers could now suffer an embarrassing exit.

Declaring his candidacy, former culture minister Evangelos Venizelos asserted: “PASOK could and should have won, for the good of the country, but it lost. We have unfortunately suffered a clear and great defeat.”

With 99.8 percent of votes counted, PASOK narrowed the gap with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ conservatives to 3.7 percent, from 4.8 percent in 2004. But the socialists still lost votes against a government weakened by financial scandal and its response to forest fires that killed at least 65 persons.

The governing conservatives won 41.8 percent of the vote, giving them 152 of parliament’s 300 seats, a loss of 13 seats. The Socialists took 38.1 percent, or 102 seats — a loss of 15 and the party’s lowest number of parliament seats in 30 years.

The left-leaning Ethnos daily said the result “reflects the desperate inability of George Papandreou’s PASOK to capitalize on the attrition suffered by … the worst government since 1974, as [Mr. Papandreou] himself termed it, and to establish itself as a credible alternative.”

Mr. Papandreou could have resigned. Instead, he delayed his concession speech until well after defeat was clear, before admitting responsibility “above anyone else.”

He is seeking re-election from the party grass roots.

The contest could be held as early as next week but is too close to call, said analyst George Sefertzis. “The [challenge] is very serious,” Mr. Sefertzis said.

Mr. Venizelos, 50, said he was not alone in his bid to unseat Mr. Papandreou. “I speak on behalf of the whole party,” Mr. Venizelos said. “This is not a personal initiative.”

Andreas Loverdos, a rising star in the party, backed Mr. Venizelos — a fellow professor of constitutional law. “There is a great need for changes, that must take place immediately,” he said.

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