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GREECE: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, by Chad E. Bell*

In Political Parties, Greek party politics from 1950-1962 was described as "often difficult to follow . . . [with] numerous cases of party splits, mergers, appearances, disappearances, name changes, and coalitions." (Janda, 1980: p. 377) And while recent developments indicate that the confusing landscape of Greek political parties has possibly stabilized, the vast majority of the period from 1963 to the present is characterized by the same party instability that was evident from 1950 until 1962.

Of the original four parties studied, only the Greek Rally/ERE has been able to withstand the test of time, and even it exists under the guise of a new name (New Democracy). The Union of Democratic Left (EDA) has ceased to exist, as has one "new" party the original text cited, the Center Union (EK) or Union for the Democratic Center (EDKH). PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Union, has usurped New Democracy as the majority political power in Greece, holding a majority in the Greek Vouli from 1981-1989 and 1993 through the present. Since it's legalization in 1974, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has emerged as a minority party in the Vouli, regularly holding between 2% and 5% of the seats. Finally, the Coalition of Leftist and Progressive Parties (Synaspismos) has emerged since 1989 as a minor player in Greek politics.

The 1961 election in Greece had been denounced by leftist and centrist forces as "an electoral coup d'etat" for the ruling ERE party, replete with voter intimidation and alleged ballot irregularities (Clogg, 1987: 42). Playing off of public discontent over the 1961 results, Georgios Papandreou's Center Union was victorious in 1963, gaining a plurality in the Vouli with 46% of the 300 seats. However, since Papandreou was unable to settle on terms for a coalition government with the EDA, King Paul was forced to dissolve the parliament and call for new elections in February of 1964 (Clogg, 1987: 47). In these elections, Papandreou and the Center Union were finally able to achieve an electoral majority, gaining 57% of the seats as the ERE and EDA both saw their electoral support slip.

Struggle between Papandreou and the monarchy over control of the military, as well as the instability of the Greek Parliament, resulted in a military coup in 1967 by three military colonels (Clogg, 1987: 55). The military government, which lasted until 1974, made all political parties illegal, and was particularly oppressive on members of leftist parties, throwing thousands of leftists in jail or forcing them into exile (Clogg, 1987: 56). By 1974, as tensions escalated with Turkey over Cyprus, Konstantinos Karamanlis of the ERE was called back to Greece from a self-imposed exile in Paris to oversee a transition to civilian government and new elections. Karamanlis held a precarious position as transitional leader of Greece. He had to appease the populous, who had grown extremely discontented with military rule, while ensuring that the political left was not too successful in the election, thus causing another military coup. Karamanlis walked the politcal tightrope adroitly, legalizing the KKE for the first time since 1947 while portraying his own rightist ERE (now named New Democracy) as the natural choice for recreating democratic rule in Greece (Clogg, 1987: 61-4). The result was a landslide victory for New Democracy, which gained 220 of the 300 seats in the Vouli with 54.4% of the popular vote. Meanwhile, PASOK, the new center-left party formed by Andreas Papandreou, the son of Center Union founder Georgios Papandreou, achieved a modest victory in its first election, gaining 13.6% of the popular vote and 12 seats (Mackie and Rose, 1991: 203-5).

In 1977, enjoying widespread popular support, Karamanlis successfully pushed for early elections to the Vouli (Clogg, 1987: 70). New Democracy retained its majority, gaining 42% of the popular vote and 171 seats. However, the Centre Union lost its position as major opposition party to PASOK, which gained 25% of the vote and 93 seats. After 1981, the Centre Union would cease to exist as a party. The KKE, contesting its first election as an independent political party since 1937, also met with some electoral success, gaining 11 seats and 4% of the vote (Mackie and Rose, 1991: 203-5).

The 1981 general elections marked PASOK's ascendancy to leadership of Greek politics, a position it would hold almost without interruption for the next 20 years. With Karamanlis recently elected President of Greece, and Georgios Rallis ineffectual as the party leader of New Democracy, the Greek people gave Andreas Papandreou's PASOK party 48% of the popular vote and 172 seats in the Vouli, making Papandreou the new Prime Minister (Clogg, 1987: 82-94). New Democracy saw its 1977 majority shrink to a scant 38% of the seats in the Vouli, and the KKE actually increased its number of seats to 13.

1985 brought about a tight election waged between New Democracy and PASOK over a constitutional crisis. In March, Karamanlis stepped down as president, and Christos Sartzetakis of PASOK was elected to the post in a contentious and constitutionally questionable parliamentary election (Clogg, 1987: 101-7). PASOK and New Democracy became embroiled in a fierce electoral competition over the future of the 1975 constitution and the nation as a whole; PASOK advocated increased legislative power and popular control of the governmental mechanism, while New Democracy encouraged continued adherence to the 1975 constitution and stability (Clogg, 1987: 109-12). The result was the largest two-party popular vote in recent Greek history, with PASOK and New Democracy garnering 86.7% of all votes (Clogg, 1987: 117). PASOK emerged as the winner in this election, with 46% of the popular vote and a comfortable majority of 161 seats. New Democracy was narrowly behind, with 41% of the popular vote and 126 seats. The KKE, meanwhile, saw its support dwindle in this highly contentious election, garnering less than 10% of the vote but holding on to 12 seats in the Vouli (Mackie and Rose, 1991: 203-5).

A modification of the electoral process in 1985 created a more proportional seat distribution after the June, 1989 election, but also resulted in no one party achieving a majority (Mackie and Rose, 1991: 187). Finally, in April of 1990 after two more elections, New Democracy was able to achieve a slim majority in the parliament, with 150 seats and 47% of the popular vote. PASOK retained 123 seats despite garnering only 39% of the vote, while the newly formed Coalition of the Left and Progress (consisting of the KKE, Greek Left, the United Democratic Left, and other minor leftist parties) gained 19 seats with 10% of the vote (Caramani, 2000: 510-1).

Unfortunately for New Democracy, a global recession dominated its 3-year administration, contributing to its downfall in the 1993 elections. PASOK once again climbed into the majority, gaining 47% of the vote and 170 seats, while New Democracy was only able to retain 111 seats with 39% of the vote. The newfound Political Spring, which broke away from New Democracy, garnered 10 seats with 5% of the vote, while the KKE (which had broken away from the Coalition of the Left and Progress) won the remaining 9 seats with 5% of the vote (Caramani, 2000: 512-3).

The 1996 election resulted in another victory for PASOK, albeit by less convincing numbers. While PASOK did win 162 seats with 42% of the vote, its support from the left and center eroded slightly thanks to strong showings by the KKE (11 seats, 6% of the vote), the Coalition of the Left and Progress (or Synaspismos, with 10 seats and 5% of the vote), and the newly formed Democratic Renewal Movement (9 seats, 4% of the vote). New Democracy's support waned slightly, gaining only 108 seats with 38% of the popular vote (Caramani, 2000: 514-5).

The 2000 election resulted in one of the closest elections in Greece history, with only 50,000 votes separating PASOK and New Democracy. Voters, pleased with PASOK's progress on foreign affairs (improved relations with Turkey, and better relations with the EU and NATO) but anxious for more rapid progress on domestic issues such as health care, education, and employment, gave PASOK a slim mandate to continue in government, with 158 seats and 44% of the vote. New Democracy, unable to fully capitalize on PASOK's weakness, secured 43% of the vote and 125 seats. The KKE and Synaspismos gained 11 and 6 seats, respectively (Quinn, 2000).

Greece's political system indeed seems to have stabilized in the past 2 decades. Greek politics has seemed to settle into a comfortable 4 party system, with two major parties and two minor parties, despite occasional fragmentation and coalition building. With military dictatorship a scant 26 years in the past, it seems that the Greek political party system has stabilized and will have a secure democratic future.

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1963-2000

Original Parties, from 1950-1962, still continuing to 2000

143 Greek Rally, later the National Radical Union, later New Democracy. New Democracy currently is the main opposition party to PASOK in Greece. A center-right party, Konstantinos Karamanlis, former head of the National Radical Union (ERE), founded New Democracy in 1974. Since the party was essentially identical to the pre-coup ERE, New Democracy is not counted as a new party for our purposes. New Democracy held majority control of the Vouli from 1974-1981 and 1990-1993.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

147 Panhellenic Socialist Union. Andreas Papandreou, the leftist son of Centre Union founder Georgios Papandreou, founded PASOK in 1974. The left-center party rose to power rapidly thanks to Andreas Papandreou­s charismatic leadership, claiming majority control of the Vouli by 1981. Since 1981, with the exception of three years from 1990-1993, PASOK has controlled the Vouli, and succesfully kept New Democracy in the governmental minority.

148 Communist Party of Greece. The KKE has actually existed since 1918, but was illegal from 1947-1974, which included the span of the original study. KKE contested the 1974 elections in an alliance with the EDA, gaining 4% of the Vouli seats. In 1977, the KKE ran independently, and since then has consistently gained around 10-12% of the popular vote. In 1989, it was briefly a member of Synaspismos, the Coalition of the Left and Progress, but left the Coalition in 1991. There is also a splinter party, known as the KKE-Esoterikon (interior), which split bitterly from the KKE over the issue of support for the Soviet Union, whose leadership the KKE-es does not recognize. However, the KKE-es had little support, joining Synaspismos in 1989 and thus not becoming electorally significant for our study.

149 Coalition of the Left and Progress, Synaspismos. Synaspismos started in 1989 as the Coalition of the Left and Progress, consisting of the KKE, KKE-es, EDA, and other leftist splinter groups. After the KKE left the coalition in 1991, the coalition decided to unite as an official party, and Synaspismos was formed in June 1992. A leftist party alligned with feminist, envirnomental, anti-military, and socialist groups, Synaspismos regularly receives between 3% and 5% of the popular vote, which is down from its 1990 high of 10%. Being such a new and minor party, it is uncertain how long Synaspismos will last, if it will last long at all.

1411 Democratic Social Movement. The Democratic Social Movement, or DIKKI, has only contested the 1996 and 2000 elections, winning 3 percent of the seats in 1996 but failing to win any seats in 2000. It is unknown whether or not this party will continue or whether it has already terminated.

1412 Political Spring. Political Spring broke away from New Democracy in 1993. In the 1993 elections, Political Spring (Politiki Anixi) gained 10 seats with 5% of the popular vote. It was unable to win a seat in 1996 despite gaining 3% of the vote. Like DIKKI, it is unknown whether or not Political Spring is continuing or has already terminated.

Original Parties from 1950-1962 terminating before 2000

145 United Democratic Left. A far-left party, the EDA served as a front for the illegal Communist party in Greece until 1974, when Karamanlis legalized the KKE once again. Having lost the bulk of its support, the EDA floundered in electoral alliances in 1974 and 1977, but ultimately was unsuccessful. The party essentially terminated after 1977, as the KKE ascended as the political choice of the left and EDA members began running on the PASOK ticket. In 1989, the remaining adherents to the EDA joined and helped form Synaspismos, the Coalition of the Left and Progress.

New Parties formed after 1962 but terminating before 2000

146 Centre Union. The Centre Union (EK) or Union for the Democratic Centre (EDKH) saw its pre-coup support evaporate after 1974. Losing votes to both New Democracy (which had moved slightly towards the center after 1974) and PASOK (which, with the legalization of the KKE in 1974 became the party of the center-left), the Centre Union, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist after the 1977 elections.

1410 National Alignment. National Alignment (Ethniki Parataxis) was a far right party that contested only one election, in 1977, winning 5 seats. It was founded by Stefanos Stefanopoulos, who previously was a leader in the conservative wing of the Centre Union, and Spyros Theotokis, who had been a leader in the ERE and was elected to the Vouli in 1981 on the New Democracy list (Mackie and Rose, 1991: 192).



Caramani, Daniele. 2000. The Societies of Europe: Elections in Western Europe since 1815, Electoral Results by Constituencies (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, Inc.).

Clogg, Richard. 1987. Parties and Elections in Greece: The Search for Legitimacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press).

Mackie, Thomas T. and Rose, Richard. (eds.) 1991. The International Almanac of Electoral History (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly).

Quinn, Patrick. "Socialists Win Third Term in Greece." AP Online. April 10, 2000. Retrieved via Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe (

*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000