by Barney Spender
Article published on the 2009-10-05 Latest update 2009-10-06 10:23 TU
Welcome to power - Greece's President Karolos Papoulias with Pasok leader George Papandreou at the presidential palace
For the Pasok supporters Sunday was a green-letter day. The party’s colour was everywhere, as the Greek public shuffled politically to the left, returning the socialists to power after five years on the sidelines.
With nearly all votes counted on Monday, Pasok had 44 per cent of the vote against New Democracy's 33.5 per cent – a lead of ten and a half percentage points.
To cap their night, outgoing prime minister Costas Karamanlis went down with his ship, announcing that he was stepping down as party leader.
“In everything there is a tipping point, a sea change in the way people look at their parties and leaders,” says Pasok’s European Parliamentary leader Stavros Lambrinidis.
“In this case there was a perfect storm of discontent for the government over a number of issues – scandals, the economy, broken promises, burning forests this year and in 2007 – and at the same time there was also a perfect storm of content for Pasok."
“The disappointment on the part of New Democracy with the excitement for Pasok led to this result which is remarkable – ten and half points in two year,” says Lambrinidis.
Papandreou says he has a 100-day plan to stimulate the economy by creating jobs and cleaning up public finances.
Lambinidis pays tribute to deceptively tough skin of the party leader, who was close to being washed out to sea when Pasok lost the last election on September 2007.
On that occasion, he faced a challenge to his leadership, notably from the tub-thumping Evangelos Venizelos. But he successfully stared down his challengers to lead the party back to power.
“For many years Papandreou was portrayed as not being up to snuff because he didn’t bang his hand on the table and he doesn’t talk the lifestyle rhetoric talk that some people are used to,” says Lambrinidis.
“What he showed during the election is that the has all the qualities needed; determination ideas, not simply the ability to do five things right but to have a vision for the future.
“He is also one of those few politicians who is absolutely trusted for his integrity.”
The economy is the top challenge facing the new government as Greece slips deeper into financial difficulty.
Its public debt, one of the highest in the European Union, is set to exceed 100 per cent of gross domestic product this year.
Greece is facing close scrutiny from the EU which has warned it over its budget deficit. Papandreou will now have to negotiate a new financial pact with the European Commission.
He also has to deal with a rise in corruption, a civil service which is bursting at the seams, the youth unrest that saw massive rioting in Athens last December, a lack of faith in public institutions such as the police and parliament itself.
Papandreou’s father and grandfather were both Prime Ministers and his pedigree means the Greek public is almost certain to give him a respectable honeymoon period. But perhaps more than anything he needs to restore hope and optimism in a country which gloom and unrest lurk in every corner of every kafeneon.
"I know this country's great potential well, the powers that suffocate under corruption, nepotism, lawlessness and waste," said Papandreou in his victory speech.
"We can free these powers and we will."
"I pledge to make every effort to persuade Greeks that we can achieve this."
The 100 days starts now.
2009-10-06 07:59 TU