Voters renew mandate for change

New Democracy’s overwhelming victory in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, in which the conservatives doubled the lead with which they had ousted the PASOK government in the March 7 elections, has given Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis a free hand to apply his policy without having to fear the political cost. New Democracy’s 43.06 percent was 9.03 percent ahead of PASOK but was also a record for a Greek party in European Parliament elections since 1981, when Greece joined the then EEC. Late on Sunday night, Karamanlis declared: «Today the Greek people, giving even greater support to New Democracy, are urging us to continue the course that we began on March 7. They put their faith in us to effect the reforms that the country needs… To provide effective responses to the accumulated problems.» His party’s general secretary, Evangelos Meimarakis, added yesterday that the wide margin «enables us to proceed at a quicker pace with the application of our policy.» The result showed that the center-right government is totally in control of the political situation in Greece, whereas PASOK, which had dominated for 20 of the past 23 years, is continuing with the uncertainty that followed its defeat in the March elections. One in three of those who voted for PASOK in March, or some 950,000 people did not vote at all this time. PASOK leader George Papandreou, who saw the distance between his party and the conservatives widen from just under 5 percent in the national elections to over 9 percent now, has presented the defeat as confirmation of the need to carry out a reformation. Next week he is expected to announce the procedure for this and the membership of PASOK’s new Political Secretariat and Political Council that will organize the next congress. Although there is grumbling in the party, no one has cast blame on Papandreou, who was elected leader in January. Synaspismos leader Nikos Constantopoulos, however, who saw his party’s share of the popular vote and EP seats drop, said he would not seek re-election at the next congress. This revived rumors that Karamanlis may propose him for president of the republic when current President Costis Stephanopoulos’s term ends next spring.