Athens — On their way to work in the morning, Athenians are greeted by thousands of political posters from the New Democracy Party, which has controlled parliament the past four years.
By lunchtime, most of the walls are papered over by posters for the leftist Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the strongest of the opposition parties, led by Andreas Papandreou.
By evening the posters of the stridently pro-Moscow Communist Party of Greece-Exterior (KKE-Exterior) predominate.
Veteran political observers believe the coming elections Oct. 18 will be the most crucial since democracy returned to Greece in 1975. And political analysts ar predicting the election will be so close that the edge could very well go to the party with the last posters up on the walls.
Western diplomats say the results are as important to Europe and the United States as they are to Greece itself. This is because Mr. Papandreou, who until recently has appeared likely to become the next prime minister, has pledged to pull the country out of the European Community (EC) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to ask the US to remove its four important naval bases, and to take a more adversary line towards Turkey.
But in the past few days, several centrist political observers say the New Democracy Party has been gaining strength. Prime Minister George Rallis in an interview with the Monitor Sept. 30, predicted that his New Democracy Party will actually do better this time around than it did in 1977. Mr. Rallis says he believes PASOK peaked in the late summer and "now people are finally getting to have apprehension over PASOK foreign policy."
Papandreou's foreign policy, says Mr. Rallis, "calls for severance of ties with the West -- but he is not saying where he wants to take us.Greece is traditionally with the West. . . . The West has greatly contributed towards the country's independence and survival."
Greece's 10-months as a member of the EC has been criticized by Mr. Papapndreou and other Greeks as not benefiting the country economically. Mr. Rallis, whose government brought Greece into the Community, says however, that Greeks are beginning to see that being part of a trading bloc with 270 million people is useful. Greek farmers, in particular, are supporting the Rallis government because of the new market and the agricultural stipends provided by the EC.
Mr. Rallis further argues that NATO membership and good relations with Turkey enable Greece to avoid a costly, dangerous arms race with Turkey, its traditional rival, Dialogue with Turkey also provides a peaceful means for negotiating bilateral issues such as the Cyprus problem and the question of air space rights over the Aegean Sea.
"PASOK"'s intransigence would easily lead to war between Greece and Turkey," Mr. Rallis says flatly.
"Withdrawal from NATO," says Mr. Rallis, "would mean Greece would be deprived of NATO's military aid and its defense would be weakened, Such a decision would give Turkey a leading and decisive role in the Aegean Sea and in the eastern Mediterranean."
Mr. Papandreou, who has declined requests for an interview, has said the present government's favoritism towards capitalism and foreign companies is damaging the Greek economy. And he calls for a "nonaligned" foreign policy. PASOK posters show a Greek flag nailed down with nails spelling out NATO and the EC; a PASOK hammer is pulling the nails away.
An issue which apparently damaged Mr. Papandreou's credibility was his refusal recently to agree on a series of person-to-person and party-to-party debates. According to Mr. Rallis, the Greek "silent majority" is beginning to seek clarification from PASOK on party positions, and these have not been forthcoming.