chapter  1
18 Pages

The Changing Party System: Stable Democracy, Contested ‘Modernisation’

The fall of the dictatorship in 1974 is generally recognised as a turning point in modern Greek political history, a point marking a significant rupture with the past. A special term is used in Greek, ‘metapolitefsi’ (meaning political change or a new political regime), to indicate and characterise the political system that emerged after the 1967-74 military regime (Voulgaris 2002). This article seeks to explore the features of the party system that was founded in the mid-1970s and to provide interpretations about its nature and characteristics. During the last 30 years the Greek party system has acquired a relatively

stable form characterised by a three-bloc structure. The creation of the third Greek Republic after the fall of the junta was followed by the emergence of new political forces, which, despite considerable continuities with the predictatorship period, introduced a substantive renewal of the political scene.

The three-bloc configuration is related to the Left-Right cleavage that has dominated Greek politics since the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1974 the Right was represented by the newly formed New Democracy party (Νέα Δημοκρατία, ND), whose leader Constantinos Karamanlis had been Prime Minister during the 1956-63 period. Karamanlis played a pivotal role in restoring democracy in Greece and led ND to electoral victory in the 1974 and 1977 elections1 (Penniman 1979; Featherstone and Katsoudas 1985; Pappas 1999). The centre and centre-left was gradually dominated by an entirely new

political formation, the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα, PASOK), a party formed in 1974 by Andreas Papandreou. PASOK soon consolidated its position in the party system and in 1981 won the parliamentary election, as it did in 1985, thus marking political developments in the 1980s (Lyrintzis 1984a, Spourdalakis 1988). The Left bloc had always been identified with the Communist Party (Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδος, KKE), which was outlawed during the 1950s and 1960s as a result of the civil war (1946-49) but was recognised as a legal force in 1974. The KKE’s electoral appeal fluctuated around 10% of the vote, while a smaller reformist party that emerged from the communist left, currently known as ‘Synaspismos’, has always remained in the area of 3% of the vote (Kapetanyannis 1993). Throughout the last 30 years, Greek party politics has been dominated by the antagonism between the two major parties, with the communist left maintaining a stable though marginal position. Of course there have been attempts to create new parties in between the three blocs or at the edges of the party system. Most of these efforts were based on splinter groups from the major parties and all proved stillborn. With the notable exception of ‘Synaspismos’, which, despite several transformations, still manages to obtain the 3% minimum requirement for parliamentary representation, no other party achieved a viable presence in Greek politics (Lyrintzis and Nikolakopoulos 1999). The Greek political parties have proved their ability to survive and to

overcome political crises. The performance of the party system during the last 30 years confirms the argument that the third Greek Republic is a consolidated democratic regime and leads to a general consensus about the viability of democracy (Gunther et al. 1995). However, there is no agreement about the quality of democracy, the nature of the party system, its specific characteristics and the classification – ideological as well as analytical – of the political parties. Moreover, the analytical tools and the theoretical schemes employed in the study of Greek politics vary, thus providing the basis for a discussion with both theoretical and practical implications. The following pages seek to pinpoint the major issues in the study of Greek party politics and to assess the usefulness of the concepts and the validity of the arguments developed during the last 30 years. The aim is twofold: First to reassess the concepts and ideas that have dominated the study of modern Greek politics and second to present the cultural and

political context within which political parties operate and to discuss the possible future developments. Thus, we may be able to reach some tentative conclusions about the party system, which, as most party systems, undergoes significant change, yet with remarkable continuity.