The Comeback Kid

socialist victory in Greece

by by Beatrice Igne-Bianchi

illustration by by Emily Martin

Greece’s socialist Pasok party celebrated a landslide election victory on Sunday. The current center-right government was hurt by a growing economic crisis and a series of corruption scandals, prompting voters to favor the Pasok party’s platform of taxing and spending to relieve pressure from imminent recession. Opinion polls showed that Greeks were tired of five years of conservative rule under the New Democracy party, whose promises to end regional corruption were undermined by the most recent blackmail and bribery scandal.

The third time’s the charm. After losing the last two elections to conservative ruler Costas Karamanlis in 2004 and 2007, socialist leader George Papandreou defeated the outgoing prime minister by epic proportions. According to the Associated Press, the Socialists lead with 44 percent of the vote to 34 percent for the New Democracy Party—giving the Pasok party a comfortable majority in Parliament at a critical time, when the country will need a strong government to handle the looming recession.

This socialist victory is rare not only for Greece, but for Europe at large. The Left has been steadily losing political ground over the past few years, primarily due to its inability to make the most of the financial crisis and propel leftist parties towards electoral wins. One of the most prominent and shocking examples of this European trend was Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing victory in France in 2007.

Papandreou favors increased government spending, including a $4.5 billion stimulus package to kick Greece's economy into high gear through a series of infrastructure projects and sustainable development. The new prime minister is also making a point of tackling one of the country's biggest issues: tax evasion. According to the New York Times, it has been estimated that Greece loses a little over $30 billion each year in unpaid income and payroll taxes.

But many seemed to have voted as much against Karamanlis as in favor of socialist leader Papandreou. Greek voters were disappointed in Karamanlis's leadership after a series of corruption scandals, by his failure to respond quickly to the severe wildfires that broke out across the country both this year and in 2007, and by the government's serious mishandling of violent protests last December after a teenage boy was shot and killed by the police.

Although voters are banking on seeing positive—and perhaps immediate—changes in government, Papandreou is in for a rocky term. The nation is anticipating a recession this year, after nearly 15 years of stable economic growth. In both shopping and tourism—the two biggest sources of revenue in the country—numbers are already suffering.

Papandreou is staying optimistic, but not falsely advertising what his time in office will look like. “Nothing will be easy,” he said. “But I will always be honest and upfront with the Greeks.”