ATHENS — WITH the election of Greece's next prime minister Sunday, public attention here remains securely fixed on daily reports of government corruption and the candidates' private lives. Left in the sidelight is the question: What has happened to Greece under eight years of socialist rule? Greece has seen significant economic and social change since Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou began the first of two terms in 1981. And in this close race, the premier's Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) is hoping to counter the damage of current headlines by rhetorically asking the Greek voter, ``Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?'' In terms of personal finance, most will answer ``yes.''
Since the early years of the Papandreou administration, Greece's annual inflation rate has dropped from 25 percent to a current 13.5 percent, still almost double the average of European Community countries.
The premier emphasized social benefits, increasing wages and pensions. A typical clerical salary in government has escalated from $80 per month in 1979 to $580 today. By sharply expanding the public sector, he quickly created jobs. The number of civil servants rose to 300,000 - 10 percent of Greece's work force.
Constantine Mitsotakis, leader of the opposing rightist New Democracy (ND) Party, is challenging Mr. Papandreou's deeds, hoping to dissuade Greeks from voting their pocketbooks.
He accentuates Papandreou's less popular stands on foreign policy, terrorism, and what the rightists contend are quick-fix economics.
Central Bank figures indicate the country has a $40 billion public debt that could lead to zero growth by next year.
Perhaps the most touted act of the socialists is a national health system that built new state hospitals and provides free care. Opponents contend the system has failed in Greece because government doctors, prohibited from entering private practice, have established their own illegal network in which patients must pay under the table to receive decent care. Rightists point to poor hospital conditions due to overcrowding.
An existing national confederation of labor gave workers' unions a louder voice under Papandreou. Some say too loud a voice. In recent years, Greece has been plagued by constant strikes by many of the workers who benefitted from the socialist job-creation programs. Postal workers angered the public a few years ago when they walked off the job demanding government-subsidized vacation accommodations.
In the capital, garbage collectors, banks, postal workers, bus drivers, and the state-owned Olympic Airways service went on strike for two months this year, bringing business to a halt. Critics say Greece has become a country that doesn't work.
Papandreou has drawn considerable criticism from abroad, angering Western diplomats with his pro-Arab position which opponents say has turned Greece into a terrorist battleground.
An anti-American platform Papandreou campaigned upon during previous elections detailed the ouster of US military bases here. Eight years later, the bases are still operating and a new contract is under negotiation.
``It's true, most of us believed the bases would close, and we're disappointed the Americans are still here,'' says one high-ranking Pasok official. ``But a smart politician is not going to fistfight someone with a gun, and Papandreou knows the strength of the Americans.
``He can tell the Greeks one thing, but ultimately he knows it's more important to have a card to play with the US over our conflict with Turkey,'' the source says.
SOCIALLY, many of the administration's changes have affected women, who until a few years ago could not purchase an automobile or open a bank account without a husband's signature. Adultery, once punishable by imprisonment, is no longer illegal. The socialists repealed dowry laws and legalized civil marriage and abortion, of which Greece has one of the highest rates in the West.
``There is still much to be done,'' says Gianna Daskalaki-Partheni, a divorce attorney and ND member. ``We now have something like no-fault divorce for uncontested split-ups, but basically a man in the village can divorce his wife and walk away without paying a single drachma in alimony. Often this is a woman who has raised a family, with no education or job skills. That's fair?''