NEWS

Papandreou and PASOK sweep to victory

PASOK made a triumphant return to government yesterday with a clear majority in Parliament that left New Democracy on the verge of suffering the most damaging election defeat in the conservative party's 35-year history. With 70 percent of votes counted, PASOK had 43.8 percent, New Democracy 34.4, the Communist Party (KKE) 7.3, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) 5.4, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) 4.3 and the Ecologist Greens 2.3. This translated into 159 parliamentary seats for PASOK, 94 for ND, 20 for KKE, 15 for LAOS and 12 for SYRIZA. The Ecologist Greens failed to garner the 3 percent needed to elect deputies. Voter turnout was about 70 percent. «Our responsibility is to change the direction in which the country is going,» said PASOK leader and Prime Minister-elect George Papandreou in a brief statement during which he promised to put «smiles back on the faces of Greeks» and to «put the citizen at the heart» of his government's actions. The result was a major turnaround for PASOK, which just two years ago had slumped to a second consecutive defeat in national elections as it saw its share of the vote decline by 2.5 percent to 38.10 percent from 2004. Yesterday, the center-left party saw its share of the national vote increase by more than 5 percent since two years ago. This turnaround also marked a personal victory for Papandreou who, following the 2007 defeat, saw his leadership challenged both by segments of the media and some members of his own party. Apart from being a victory for PASOK and Papandreou, who will become the third member of his family to govern Greece after his grandfather and father, the result of yesterday's election was a shattering defeat for New Democracy, which saw its share of the popular vote decline from more than 45 percent in 2004, when it was first elected to power under the leadership of Costas Karamanlis, to just over 35 percent yesterday. The size of New Democracy's defeat yesterday and its rapid decline since being voted into power for a second term in September 2007, sealed Karamanlis's fate. At just before 11 p.m. last night, he went to Zappeio Hall to announce that he would be stepping down as the president of New Democracy, a position he has held since 1997. «I submitted a realistic plan which I believed represented the safest way to protect the economy and secure growth from 2011 for everyone, not just the few,» he said. «The citizens did not approve this plan but... because the only strength I had was my relationship with them, the only responsible and honest way is for me to accept responsibility and begin the process of electing the new president of New Democracy.» Karamanlis said an extraordinary party conference would be held in one month in order for ND to elect a new leader. He pledged his support to his successor. Possible replacements - outgoing Culture Minister Antonis Samaras, ex-Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and erstwhile Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis - restricted themselves to praising Karamanlis. Of the smaller parties, only the right-wing LAOS saw its vote increase from 2007 - by about 1.5 percent. Support for KKE fell by about 1 percent, while SYRIZA's backing dropped by just under 1 percent. New Democracy cadres put on brave face as they ponder crushing election defeatAs official results from a large segment of the electorate confirmed the victory of socialist PASOK in snap polls yesterday evening, high-profile cadres of the ousted New Democracy sought to present a stiff upper lip to the public, while those further behind the front line expressed clear disappointment at the conservatives' crushing defeat. One of the first to make a public statement was Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, the ND cadre believed to have been one of the architect behind the decision to call early elections. «New Democracy spoke honestly and sincerely and did not just tell people what they wanted to hear,» Souflias said outside the party's headquarters in Athens. Shortly after Souflias's comments, Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, a former minister and ND deputy, criticized «senior figures» in New Democracy for failing to appear on television panels to discuss the conservatives' election defeat. «There will be developments in New Democracy but this time they won't be controlled by top figures; they will be influenced by lower-ranking cadres like me,» he told private Mega Channel. Prominent ND cadre Panos Panagiotopoulos, speaking on Mega later, was visibly crestfallen. «This is perhaps the most difficult night for the party since its formation,» he said. He spoke of a «heavy defeat» and stressed the importance of «investigating the reasons» behind it and «rebuilding» ND in order to provide «a strong opposition which is much needed in this day and age.»

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