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2009 Greek Parliamentary Elections

- October 5, 2009

In our continuing series of “election reports from political scientists”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/09/election_reports_and_political.html, I am pleased to present the following guest post from “Stratos Patrikios”:http://www.strath.ac.uk/government/staff/patrikiosstratosdr/ and “Georgios Karyotis”:http://www.strath.ac.uk/government/staff/karyotisgeorgiosdr/ of the “Department of Government, University of Strathclyde”:http://www.strath.ac.uk/government/research/:

The Greek parliamentary election of 2009 took place on October 4, two years ahead of schedule. The Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) returned to power after five-and-a-half years of conservative administration by New Democracy (ND). The early dissolution of parliament has become the norm in Greek politics since 1974, with elections called early, usually in order to serve the incumbent’s electoral prospects. In the “September 2007 election”:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=GatewayURL&_method=citationSearch&_uoikey=B6V9P-4RW4RRB-1&_origin=SDEMFRASCII&_version=1&md5=09e2b391d6d52f4326d7ec04cc11b868, New Democracy had renewed its electoral mandate on the basis of a sound economic performance and trust in Prime Minister’s Costas Karamanlis leadership skills. On the other hand, defeat had left PASOK in turmoil. While its leader, George Papandreou, successfully bounced off challengers to his leadership in nationwide elections in November 2007, questions over PASOK’s unity allowed the left-wing party SYRIZA to reach historically high levels of public support. Despite its weak majority of 152 in a 300-strong Parliament, ND remained ahead in the polls until the autumn of 2008 (see graph, data from “Public Issue”:http://www.publicissue.gr/116/timeline-vote/, website in greek):


However, ND failed to deliver on its reform plans in education, social security and public sector downsizing, amidst economic underperformance, internal opposition, as well as violent street protests. Karamanlis’ promise to restore public faith in the political system was further hampered by a string of corruption scandals, which involved high profile cabinet members. The slow reflexes of the PM to assume responsibility and isolate those implicated during his annual address at the International Exhibition in Thessaloniki in September 2008 proved a crucial turning point. PASOK overtook ND in the polls, while SYRIZA’s support gradually deflated. Meanwhile, the downturn in the global economy had affected the key sectors of tourism and shipping, bringing Greece to the brink of recession.

In this negative climate towards the government and following a poor showing by PASOK in the June European elections, the PM called for a snap election on September 2, 2009, despite trailing in the polls by almost six percentage points. The official justification given by the PM himself was the need for a fresh mandate that would help him stir the country safely through the international financial storm. Yet, PASOK had already declared its intention to force a general election in March 2010 in accordance with constitutional provisions over the selection of a President of the Republic. Therefore, an alternative explanation for going to the country is that the PM tried to avoid an unnecessarily prolonged pre-election period. The campaigns of the two major parties focused on contrasting messages, mirroring European-wide debate over ways out of the economic crisis. The ruling party centred on the need for continued fiscal austerity, including a freezing of public wages. PASOK promised to inject up to three billion Euros into the economy. In the end, the government failed to convince the electorate of the need for austerity or of its own ability to manage the economy. Economic management was so central to this election that it completely overshadowed the corruption scandals that dominated the European elections campaign.

Over seven million voters out of the approximately ten million registered cast a ballot on October 4. Abstention reached 29.1%, an increase of over three-percentage points compared to 2007. As in 2007, the election returned a five-party parliament. PASOK won a landslide with 43.9% of the vote and 160 seats. ND reached its lowest ever share with 33.5% and 91 seats. The ruling party got 700,000 fewer votes than in the election two years ago. The good performance of centre-left PASOK and the bad performance of centre-right ND affected the other parties in the field. The communists of KKE got 7.5% of the vote and 21 seats, a slightly worse result that in 2007. Similarly, SYRIZA, the coalition of the radical left, performed somewhat worse than in 2007 with 4.6% and 13 seats. The Ecologist Greens failed to reach the 3% threshold required for entry to the Parliament, and therefore did not elect any MPs. They did however more than double their vote. The far-right party, LAOS, did better than in 2007, obtaining 5.6% of the vote (+115,000 votes) and 15 seats.

The election delivers a government with a comfortable majority to push for much needed economic reforms. The main challenge for PASOK will be to deliver on its promises of wage increases, infrastructure investments, and sustainable development at a time when the economy is predicted to slide into recession. Meanwhile, defeat has led to the resignation of the outgoing PM from his party’s leadership, paving the way for a leadership contest in the ND. Overall, the PASOK landslide and the Socrates re-election in Portugal buck the European trend of socialist parties being unable to gain from the financial crisis. Both parties campaigned on a platform of increased public spending, and were opposed by parties promising financial austerity.