Intrigue, doubts linger in Athens after election of new president
Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has won the first round in his fight to establish exclusive dominance of Greek politics. That is the view of diplomatic and political observers here, following the election of a new president of Greece.Skip to next paragraph
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Christos Sartzetakis, a Greek Supreme Court justice, received 180 votes from the 300-seat Greek Parliament in Friday's vote, exactly the number he needed to win on the third and final ballot.
Mr. Sartzetakis succeeds Constantine Caramanlis, who resigned March 10 after Mr. Papandreou said that he would not support him for a second five-year term and that he would seek to revise the Constitution, stripping the presidency of itspowers. Mr. Caramanlis, Greece's most respected statesman, was widely regarded as a restraining influence on Papandreou.
Greece's new president has a reputation among his colleagues and friends as an honest, tough, sometimes brilliant judge. But many Greek and foreign officials here fear he will become a puppet in the hands of Papandreou. Sartzetakis has never been associated with any political party and has maintained a remarkably low professional and social profile. He has had little political experience.
Aside from being considered a centrist on the Greek political spectrum, little is known about the president's political views. Since his selection as candidate, Sartzetakis has granted no interviews and generally stayed out of the public eye.
Indeed, his only moment in the limelight came in 1963 when he was investigating magistrate in the celebrated murder case of a popular left-wing member of Parliament, Grigoris Lambrakis, who was run down by a motorcycle driven by right-wing thugs during a rally.
Sartzetakis's role as the tough investigator of the case was made famous in the prize-winning film ``Z.'' His role in those events earned him his only known enemies: the extreme right.
``He is very distant and self-effacing. His reputation and image is as smooth and unmarked as a sheet of white paper,'' said one conservative source who grew up with Sartzetakis.
Others are not so sure.
``He is determined, almost obstinate, and he will remain honest in the face of the most extreme pressure,'' said a New Democracy supporter who attended university with Sartzetakis. ``He is also a legalist: he will neither do anything nor allow himself to appear to cooperate in any action he believes to violate the spirit or letter of the law. I think he is a real wild card. Papandreou must be careful or his president may boomerang in his face.''
Immediately after the vote, Konstan- tinos Mitsotakis, the leader of the New Democracy party, declared that his party did not recognize the election because it had depended on the vote of Ioannis Alevras, who has been interim president. The Greek Constitution states that the president of the republic cannot hold any other office or perform any other function than those of the chief of state.
Arguing that the Constitution was not clear on the question of the rights and responsibilities of an interim president, parliament members belonging to the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and communist MPs voted two weeks ago to allow Mr. Alevras to vote in Friday's ballot. (New Democracy MPs walked out during that vote.)
New Democracy also accused interim president of Parliament Michael Stephanides of violating the Constitution by mandating the use of blue ballots for Sartzetakis and white ones for blank ones.
Mr. Stephanides made his ruling after the first ballot two weeks ago, when during the secret vote defections of socialist or independent members of Parliament publicly committed to Sartzetakis threatened to deny the candidate the votes he needed on the third ballot.
According to the Constitution the presidential election must be secret.
In a raucous exchange with Mr. Mitsotakis before Friday's vote, Prime Minister Papandreou defended the elimination of secrecy, saying Carmamanlis's 1975 Constitution was a ``one-party'' document and that the election of a president was too important to allow secrecy.
Parliamentary elections must be held by October, but there is widespread speculation that Papandreou will seek early elections in June. A recent poll showed PASOK's lead over New Democracy had shrunk to only one percent (35 percent to the New Democracy's 34 percent).
Sartzetakis, who is 56-years old, was born and raised in Thessalon'iki, Greece's second largest city. He studied law at the University of Salonica. He became a lower court magistrate in 1955 and deputy judge the next year. He received a fellowship from the Greek government in 1965 to pursue advanced legal studies in Paris. The fellowship was revoked by the military dictatorship that took power in 1967.
He returned to Athens and was imprisoned twice. After the dictatorship fell in 1974, he was named to the Athens court of appeals, and become a Supreme Court justice in 1982.