Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority

Greek socialists won a parliamentary majority under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou, who formed the first socialist government in the country’s history.

Summary of Event

The years of military rule in Greece (1967-1974) left a lasting legacy of revulsion against authoritarian rule and the determination to create a stable democracy. Called from self-imposed exile, Konstantinos Karamanlis returned to Athens, where he had to deal immediately with a dangerous confrontation between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and then with popular clamor for the punishment of the junta leaders and their supporters and the depoliticization of the military. Greece;government
Panhellenic Socialist Movement
[kw]Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority (Oct. 18, 1981)
[kw]Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority, Greek (Oct. 18, 1981)
[kw]Parliamentary Majority, Greek Socialists Win (Oct. 18, 1981)
Panhellenic Socialist Movement
[g]Europe;Oct. 18, 1981: Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority[04680]
[g]Balkans;Oct. 18, 1981: Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority[04680]
[g]Greece;Oct. 18, 1981: Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority[04680]
[c]Government and politics;Oct. 18, 1981: Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority[04680]
Karamanlis, Konstantinos
Mitsotakis, Konstantinos
Papandreou, Andreas

Democratic government was reestablished, but the people’s joy was diminished by the national humiliation over Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus. In the aftermath of that crisis, it was a political leader from the past, Karamanlis, who led the way to democratic politics, but it was a figure from the future, Andreas Papandreou, who took greatest advantage of it.

Karamanlis would not countenance military action against Turkey over Cyprus. Some 40 percent of the island remained occupied by Turkish troops, and the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities separated physically, resulting in a major refugee problem. Greece withdrew from the military wing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in protest.

Before dealing with the military and other problems, Karamanlis called for elections quickly. Held in November, 1974, for parliament, and followed by a referendum on the monarchy in December, the elections represented were a milestone in several respects. The communists, whose party had been illegal since before World War II, were able to participate. Voters rejected the return of the monarchy, and Greece became a republic. Andreas Papandreou competed for votes leading the recently established Panhellenic Socialist Movement Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).

Papandreou brought together center-leftist elements from his father’s Centre Union Party, including members of youth organizations, and more radical leftists who had been members of his resistance organization against the junta. Ideologically, Papandreou called for a socialist “third way,” neither capitalist nor communist. PASOK demanded national independence free of outside intervention, sovereignty based on the people, and the creation of democratic institutions emphasizing local self-rule. Specifically this meant an anti-NATO stance, demanding that American bases in Greece close, wariness of close ties to the European Economic Community (EEC), which Greece was to join as a full member, bitter criticism of the monarchy and the junta, and a pro-Third World position in foreign affairs.

In the 1974 election, PASOK came in third following the Centre Union Party. Overwhelming victory (54 percent of the vote and 219 of 300 parliamentary seats) went to Karamanlis and his New Democracy Party. New Democracy Party (Greece) A continuation of the National Radical Union Party of the 1950’s, New Democracy was the mainstay of the moderate conservatives. Offering what most Greeks wanted at the time, stability and democracy, Karamanlis represented dignity for Greece, commitment to Western alliances and institutions, and a middle road in politics, allowing communists a voice while settling the monarchy issue. In 1975, Karamanlis pushed for a new constitution that strengthened presidential authority against that of parliament. Konstantinos Tsatsos, a New Democracy supporter, was elected president.

Because of pressing foreign issues, early parliamentary elections were held in November, 1977. New Democracy maintained control of parliament, although its percentage of the popular vote fell. More significantly, the share of the center vote dropped dramatically, while PASOK’s percentage of the popular vote nearly doubled. With the second-highest number of members in parliament, it was now the main opposition party.

Papandreou’s rhetoric had proved popular at the polls, but governmental power still eluded him. Some in the party advocated ideological purity and preparing for the long run. Others counseled moderating the discourse and appealing to as broad a segment of the electorate as possible. Papandreou opted for the latter course, promoting PASOK as a noncommunist alternative for those who had been shut out of politics in the past.

Papandreou called for allagi (change), promising widespread social reform. Party stalwarts built a solid grassroots organization, while their leader projected an alluring charisma, with speeches redolent of populism. This combination of factors produced a left-of-center party with mass appeal.

Such formidable competition from the left impelled political change on the right. In 1979, Karamanlis convened a party congress of New Democracy at which ideology was given a more liberal cast and the party’s leadership was democratically elected by the parliamentary membership. Soon after, Karamanlis turned his eyes to the presidency, as Tsatsos stepped down. He was elected by parliament in 1980.

The following year, two historic events occurred: Greece became the tenth member of the European Community, and, in October of 1981, PASOK won the elections to become the first socialist government in Greek history. As a candidate, Papandreou spoke of the need for dramatic change in domestic and foreign affairs, but he was not about to remake society.


Although PASOK had promised much in the campaign, reality dictated otherwise. The double economic problem of inflation and stagnation that afflicted Greece in the late 1970’s led the PASOK government to adopt new fiscal policies while trying to keep its campaign promises. To combat stagnation, automatic cost-of-living increases stimulated consumer demand, but at the cost of further inflation. To assert Greece’s national independence, PASOK technocrats argued for incentives to enterprises that embraced new technologies while increasing efficiency. The government also stepped in to aid “problematic” industries, like the shipyards, that were foundering. Papandreou successfully demanded a redistribution of EEC funds to less developed member states such as Greece.

In a shrewd and long overdue move, on the civil front the government sought to heal the political breach resulting from the bitter civil war of the late 1940’s by acknowledging the efforts of the leftist resistance movement during World War II and allowing political exiles of that era to return.

In 1985, Papandreou sought a mandate for a second term from the voters to carry out social reforms. However, the election was held amid rancor between PASOK and New Democracy. Earlier that year the wily and autocratic Papandreou refused to support Karamanlis in his bid for a second term as president. He put forward his own candidate and proposed changes in the constitution that would limit the president’s powers. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, now party leader of New Democracy, bitterly opposed Papandreou and painted the ideological differences between the two parties in stark contrasts. With a timely increase in public expenditures for new civil service jobs and financial aid to various segments of the populace, however, PASOK won as mundane concerns came first over ideological positions among the electorate.

The sweetness of political victory was diluted when PASOK had to take the harsh medicine of implementing an economic austerity program to curb public deficits and increase revenues. Protest strikes by public employees followed. In 1987, Papandreou tried to deal with criticism that the party and government were too closely linked and the party had lost its ideological momentum. Problems, both personal and political, mounted for Papandreou in 1988. He became seriously ill with heart problems while deciding to divorce his wife and marry a woman half his age. A financial scandal blew up, and he was indicted in 1989.

As parliamentary commissions investigated the growing scandal, two elections in 1989 proved inconclusive, and it was not until April of 1990 that New Democracy formed a working majority. Mitsotakis became prime minister and embarked on an austerity program and the privatization of public enterprises as befitting a party committed to free enterprise. Karamanlis was again elected president and counseled Mitsotakis to exercise restraint as the new measures were hurting some more than others.

Papandreou overcame the indictment and was acquitted in 1992, the year when almost all in parliament approved the Maastricht Treaty Maastricht Treaty (1992) of European Union integration. Defections from New Democracy in 1993 forced Mitsotakis to call elections that fall. Papandreou’s star shone again, and PASOK won a comfortable majority in parliament. Though in delicate health, Papandreou garnered support by criticizing the austerity program, promising to halt privatization, and projecting PASOK as a caring social democratic party.

Both major parties were committed to the economic convergence program for Greece to meet the requirements for integration in the European Union. Papandreou was, therefore, forced to follow austerity measures and some privatization. The Papandreou era ended, however, in January of 1996, when ill health forced him to resign as prime minister, though remaining as party leader.

Papandreou’s legacy was mixed. An authoritarian figure who dominated his party’s affairs, he used populist appeals to exploit fears in society. This resulted in disenchantment with politics by the electorate, limited social and economic progress, and few foreign relations successes. Disaffection with the role of the state in civil society remained. On the positive side, there were gains in women’s property and legal rights, PASOK helped overcome the deep political divisions between the left and the right, and a large segment of the petite bourgeoisie felt empowered. Greece;government
Panhellenic Socialist Movement

Further Reading

  • Clogg, Richard, ed. Greece 1981-89: The Populist Decade. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Essays primarily on domestic politics and foreign affairs.
  • Kariotis, Theodore C., ed. The Greek Socialist Experiment: Papandreou’s Greece, 1981-1989. New York: Pella, 1992. Essays discuss Papandreou’s leadership style and foreign policy, and the changing role of women in Greece, among other topics.
  • Spourdalakis, Michalis. The Rise of the Greek Socialist Party. London: Routledge, 1988. A penetrating study that places the development of PASOK in historical context.
  • Vryonis, Speros, Jr. Greece on the Road to Democracy: From the Junta to PASOK, 1974-1986. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Caratzas, 1991. Conference papers covering various aspects of Greek developments assessing changes since 1974.

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