Source AP ©

Greek political dynasty faces crucial point

A wily law professor is challenging the heir to one of Greece's two most enduring political dynasties for the leadership of Greece's socialist party.

George Papandreou, the son and grandson of two of the country's most influential postwar prime ministers, is fighting to remain head of the PASOK party, which was founded by his father, Andreas Papandreou. A charismatic politician, the elder Papandreou was best known for his fiery anti-US rhetoric and his public affair with an air hostess half his age, whom he later married.

Two political dynasties have alternated power for half a century. Greece has had a Papandreou or a Karamanlis as prime minister for 30 of the 45 years of democratic governance since 1955, excluding the 1967-74 military dictatorship. The current prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, is the nephew of the late conservative Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis.

"We are a country of political dynasties," said political analyst Giorgos Kyrtsos. "We have Karamanlis, we have Papandreou."

And Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, the daughter of former conservative Premier Constantine Mitsotakis "is waiting," Kyrtsos said. "It's exceptionally difficult to avoid political dynasties here."

The phenomenon is spreading, he said, pointing to the U.S., with the Bush and Clinton families, and Argentina, where President Nestor Kirchner's wife has been elected to replace him.

"It seems that instead of us modernizing, the international community is adapting to our particularities."

PASOK, which stormed to power in 1981 with the late Andreas Papandreou at its helm and remained there for much of the next 20 years, suffered a humiliating defeat in September. The party's 38 percent of the vote in Greece's early elections gave it just 102 seats in parliament - the lowest number in 30 years.

The defeat came under the leadership of the founder's 55-year-old son, George Papandreou, a former foreign minister. And for some party stalwarts, it seemed too much to bear.

Barely had Papandreou concluded his concession speech than former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos challenged his leadership, throwing PASOK into turmoil.

A third contender, former party secretary Costas Skandalidis, lags far behind the other two in opinion polls and is considered unlikely to win.

Initially, Venizelos, 50, appeared to be way ahead. A poll by the Metron Analysis agency on Sept. 17, the day after the election, showed him enjoying 65 percent support compared to 20 percent for Papandreou.

But Papandreou rallied, eventually overtaking his rival. In a poll conducted Oct. 19-22, the same agency showed Papandreou with 39 percent support compared to Venizelos' 32 percent.

"Mr. Papandreou showed an endurance that surprised me," Kyrtsos said, adding that after PASOK's resounding election defeat, he had believed Papandreou had "no prospects" to continue as party leader.

"In the end, Papandreou endured. He showed that he is trained to lead under difficult conditions. He isn't particularly charismatic by Greek standards, he can't easily address Greek public opinion, but he has an undisputed endurance."

After an intense campaign centering on which candidate is more likely to lead the party to victory in the future, PASOK's grass roots supporters will chose their leader this Sunday. Hundreds of thousands are expected to cast ballots - the vote is open to anyone who registers as a supporter or "friend" of the party. A candidate needs 50 percent of the votes cast plus one to win.

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