THE GREEK centre-left party that pursued Blairite policies for four years was swept out of office at last Sunday's general election. New Democracy, the Tory party, took 47 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Pasok, equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain.
Pasok had been in office for 19 of the past 22 years. It has bitterly disappointed working class voters and its core supporters, who identified it with significant social reforms 20 years ago. A few months before the general election it changed leader. Costas Simitis-nicknamed the Greek Tony Blair-was replaced by George Papandreou, a kind of Gordon Brown figure who many party activists felt had some connection with its roots.
'But Papandreou proved to be just as right wing as Simitis,' says Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker's sister paper in Greece. 'He went as far as to put two former Tory politicians on Pasok's election slate. They were both hated as Thatcherites in the early 1990s. And Pasok's campaign did not even attack the Tories until the final week.'
'The Tories knew that the sentiment against Pasok was essentially left wing,' adds Panos. 'So they ran a campaign which was a complete break with their old hard right past. They emphasised that they would be a caring government. Their leader, Costas Karamanlis, visited the Muslim minority in the north of the country and claimed they would no longer be second class citizens under a Tory government. He said the same about minorities in general on a television debate. He said he favoured seeking agreement with Turkey that would allow both countries to cut armaments expenditure. And both New Democracy and Pasok agreed not to make the war on Iraq an election issue. In this way New Democracy was able to benefit from the disillusionment with Pasok.'
Parties standing to the left of Pasok were squeezed as polls showed a tight gap between the two front runners. Under Greece's election system there is scope for small parties to win seats if they get over 3 percent. But the front runner is allocated extra seats so it can form a government even if it gets fewer votes than the rest of the parties combined, which squeezes left wing parties.
Last Sunday the Communist Party got 5.8 percent (a whisker more than four years ago) and the Left Alliance (formed by former Communist Party members) got the same 3.1 percent it got four years ago. A third force on the left emerged at these elections. The anti-capitalist coalition ran nationally and got 8,500 votes. 'Many people liked what it was saying,' says Panos. 'They wanted a break from the politics of backroom deals and sectarian sniping that has characterised the old left. But, with the main parties so close and other parts of the left struggling to stay in parliament, they said they would probably hold off voting for the coalition until the European elections in June.'