Socialists Win Big in Greek Election

But economic troubles present party with limited options for responding to voters' concerns

GREECE'S new Socialist government will take the reins of power with a limited range of action for responding to a disgruntled electorate's economic concerns, and with difficult challenges bearing down on the country's Balkan and Aegean borders.

Despite a victory pledge to ``pull Greece out of [its] crisis'' with a ``policy of national pride,'' Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader Andreas Papandreou will find his options constrained by deep public debt and warnings from the European Community to hold to an austerity program that had just begun to show results. The EC provides Greece with billions of dollars in annual funding.

Sunday's national elections, which returned PASOK to power after three-and-a-half years of rule by the center-right New Democracy party, gave the Socialists 170 of the Parliament's 300 seats. President Constantine Karamanlis yesterday asked Mr. Papandreou to form a government, which he was expected to present as early as today.

The election was a smashing personal triumph for the 74-year-old Papandreou, who in 1989 ended two four-year terms as prime minister embroiled in financial scandal, physically weakened, and widely written off as having reached the end of a tumultuous political career.

Papandreou led a low-profile campaign, appearing only four times in public, and Sunday night he did not leave his home. Many Greek analysts took this as an indication of the kind of low-exposure, highly delegated leadership they expect Papandreou to pursue. Some PASOK insiders, on the other hand, said they anticipated a ``Reagan-like'' leadership, where the prime minister would, as one said, ``set the government tone and rest enough to handle the essential.''

Whichever scenario is followed, observers said, the election marks the ``beginning of the end'' of a 20-year political period in Greece marked by the nasty personal rivalry of Papandreou and outgoing Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis.

Mr. Mitsotakis, who on Sunday reiterated a campaign declaration that defeat would lead him to withdraw from politics, said his New Democracy party would now focus on choosing a new leader. New Democracy won 111 seats, down from 150 in 1990.

The election also confirmed Political Spring, the newest political party, as Greece's third political force, with 10 parliamentary seats.

The party is lead by the young Antonis Samaras, who had been Mitsotakis's foreign minister before quitting both the government and New Democracy over what he considered a ``weak'' policy on the issue of international recognition for the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

The Greek Communist Party won nine seats.

PASOK officials said yesterday the party is looking toward four years of government stability, but prospects for a long-term run of power remain questionable.

Many analysts assume Papandreou will give up the rigorous premiership for a run at the more ceremonial presidency in May 1995. Anticipation of such a move also exposes PASOK to a leadership struggle.

The presidential election in 18 months, and the possibility that it will trigger fresh parliamentary elections, mean Greece is unlikely to benefit from the period of stability that analysts say it needs to seriously tackle its difficult economic problems - high public debt, high inflation, a failing export sector, and poor public services.

Election of a president requires 180 votes in Parliament, without which new parliamentary elections must be held. With Sunday's results, a PASOK presidential candidate would need 11 votes from outside his own party - a feat that today appears problematic.

Observers worry that the possibility of new parliamentary elections within two years will encourage PASOK to follow electorate-pleasing economic policies.

Electoral concerns could also put a damper on chances for finding compromise solutions for such thorny regional issues as a mutually acceptable name for the Macedonia republic, and Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island nation's 20-year-old partition between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities, following a Turkish invasion in 1974, remains the principle sticking point in tense Greek-Turkish relations.

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