When Greek voters go to the polls later this year, their choice will be between the pro-Western, center-right incumbent government and the neutralist, anti-American, leftist, socialist opposition.
By law, the Greek election has to be held by Nov. 20. At this stage, the general expectation is that Prime Minister George Rallis (with the support of President Constantine Caramanlis) will wait until after the summer before calling for an election.
The President and the prime minister (both of the New Democracy Party) are pro- NATO and pro-European Community. Opposition Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou and his neutralist Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) are basically anti-NATO and anti- EC.
Many analysts expect the result of the election to be much closer than the last (in 1977), with New Democracy and PASOK running more neck-and-neck than before. If neither of these two won an overall majority, the role of the "third" parties would become important in forming a new government.
At the moment, New Democracy has a commanding position in Parliament: 174 of 300 seats, compared with PASOK's 93. The balance of seats is shared by a number of third parties. The biggest of these is the hardline "exterior" faction of the Communist Party, with 11 seats. The political center, once represented by a solid small party, has split three ways, with each of the three factions having no more than single-figure representation in the legislature.
Already there is speculation about whom Mr. Papandreou might turn to for help in forming a coalition, if it helped him win a parliamentary vote of confidence. To outsiders, the Communists might seem natural allies for Mr. Papandreou. But he himself might studiously avoid association with the Communists both before and after the election, believing that his route to power lies in cultivating a moderate image that would not scare away Greek middle-class voters. The groupings of the Center might therefore come to hold the balance of power.
The issues in the coming election are likely to be:
* Greece's relations with the West (particularly with the United States), should things go sour in the current negotiations to revise the 1953 agreement with the US for American use of military facilities on Greek soil.
* The US role during the authoritarian military rule of the colonels in Athens from 1967 to 1974 -- should things should go sour. Given a receptive climate, the opposition might try to identify the US with the hated colonels, as the Iranian revolutionaries identified the US with the late Shah.
* Again, if that souring should take place, the unresolved situation in Cyprus in which Greek Cypriots see themselves (since the Turkish military seizure of part of the island in 1974) as the aggrieved party at Turkish and Turkish Cypriot hands. The opposition in Greece might get mileage from accusing the incumbent Greek government of failing to get its American friends to use their influence with Turkey to be conciliatory on Cyprus.
* The nagging bread-and-butter question of the economy -- particularly if the government's hope is dashed that Greece's accession to the European Community last Jan. 1 will somehow help check inflation and rising unemployment.
Greek public opinion seems so far to have accepted the government's NATO and EC decisions, but without enthusiasm. The attitude is perhaps one of "wait and see." Events in Poland are not lost on Greeks and may have smoothed the way to broader acceptance than some had expected to Greece's return to the protective NATO military umbrella. After all, Greece has a common border with Bulgaria, an East European Soviet bloc country.
Apparently responding to this present mood, Mr. Papandreou has recently muted his once vehemently critical pronouncements on both NATO and the EC.On the EC, for example, he says that if he became prime minister later this year, he would not automatically take Greece out of the Community but would seek a referendum on the question.
That leaves NATO as more likely to offer Mr. Papandreou an election issue -- particularly if Mr. Caramanlis and Mr. Rallis are disappointed in their hope of revising in Greece's favor the 1953 agreement with the US on American use of key military facilities in Greece. Negotiations to this end opened in Athens recently. The facilities are: a splendid naval anchorage at Suda Bay, in Crete, where there are a nearby airbase and missile range; an electronic surveillance station at Heraklion, also in Crete; an airbase at Hellenikon, the airport of Athens; and a fleet communications center at Nea Makri, near Marathon.
The present Greek government has one overriding concern in the current negotiations with the US -- although it might not expressly state it. It is to ensure that Greece is not relegated to an intolerably inf erior status vis-a-vis Turkey.