IF there are any policymakers in Washington secretly pulling for the defeat of Andreas Papandreou and his socialist PASOK Party in the Greek elections scheduled for June 18, let them think again. Despite Mr. Papandreou's colorful and annoying anti-American rhetoric, the core arrangements of United States-Greek relations have remained remarkably stable during his eight years as prime minister. The outcome of Sunday's elections may be less important in their own right, however, than in what they portend for Greece's political future. Whatever happens this weekend, for the next year at least the Greek government will be as fragile as a china shop, and the US must beware of playing the role of the bull.
Papandreou's once-strong grip on a majority in the Vouli is evaporating in the heat of ever-widening financial scandals involving the PASOK leadership, Papandreou's own ill health and messy affair with a former airline stewardess, and deteriorating domestic economic conditions.
The two major opposition forces squaring off against PASOK on Sunday are the center-right New Democracy Party and a leftist alliance that incorporates the Communist Party (KKE) along with various splinter groups. Under the recently approved electoral system of almost straight proportional representation, a party would need to garner 47 percent of the popular vote to hold an absolute majority in the 300-seat Vouli. But recent public-opinion polls suggest that New Democracy will probably emerge with close to 40 percent of the vote, PASOK with about 30 percent, and the leftist alliance with about 15 percent (the rest of the voters are undecided).
Thus an extremely precarious government is a virtual certainty. Whether New Democracy barely acquires the needed votes, or PASOK hangs on to power by wooing the left with promises of greater concessions to labor and a stronger commitment to jettisoning the American bases, the plurality is likely to be less than 10 percent, thereby placing great constraints on the ability of either government to enact policy.
In fact, though, the government that results from the June 18 elections may not be all that important from the point of view of the United States. Neither a New Democracy nor a PASOK coalition government is likely to have the parliamentary clout to initiate radical changes in Greek foreign policy. What may be of greater concern is the government that emerges next year. The presidential election is to be held in 1990, and according to the constitution, the president must be elected in the Vouli with at least 180 votes. If the votes are not forthcoming after three attempts - a probability under the shaky interim government - parliament is automatically dissolved and new elections are held. It will be this government that will most likely govern Greece for some time to come.
Ideally, the US would not have to engage the interim government in substantive policy controversies. The game plan for 1990 - not US-Greek elections - will be topmost on any interim government's agenda. Unfortunately, the base agreement expires in May 1990, before the final showdown on the presidential election, and the US will have to deal with the fragile interim government. The success of those negotiations will be a matter of matching their pace to the domestic political needs of the government. The political interests of a New Democracy government would be best served by reaching an agreement soon after this month's election. The American military presence, which powerfully affects Greek national pride, could drop from the forefront of the political debate before the 1990 elections and strengthen New Democracy's electoral chances.
If, on the other hand, PASOK manages to retain power by allying itself with the left, which opposes any new base agreement, the US position will be more problematic. Again, timing will be key. By moving slowly on negotiations the US would, in effect, give PASOK needed time to choose between losing its leftist coalition partners or losing the national security that the American presence provides. Although many Greeks resent the US bases, they fear Turkey much more, and the government that removed this guarantee would face almost certain electoral defeat. In the spring of 1990, with both the treaty deadline and the elections imminent, PASOK would probably choose to conclude a new agreement.
In either case, the US approach should treat the base agreement as but one issue in a package of negotiations centering on Greek-Turkish relations. A wise move would be to act as a facilitator in the sputtering talks between the two nations on territorial rights in the Aegean and the future of Cyprus. To help deliver a foreign policy success for the new government, while simultaneously dispelling pent-up resentment over perceived American favoritism toward Turkey in NATO, would smooth the completion of a new base agreement, regardless of who rules Greece for the next year. When in a china shop, the bull must move with patience and precision.