Legislative election results map. Blue denotes prefectures won by New Democracy, Green denotes those won by PASOK.
Legislative elections were held in Greece on March 7, 2004. At stake were 300 seats in the Greek Parliament, the Vouli (Greek: Βουλή). The New Democracy party of Costas Caramanlis won a decisive victory in the elections, ending eleven years of rule by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).
PASOK was led into the elections by George Papandreou, who succeeded retiring Prime Minister Costas Simitis as party leader in February. He was opposed by New Democracy leader Costas Caramanlis.
Greek politics are strongly dynastic. Costas Caramanlis is the nephew of Constantine Caramanlis, who was three times Prime Minister and twice President of Greece, and founder of New Democracy after the restoration of democracy in 1974. George Papandreou is the son of Andreas Papandreou, twice Prime Minister and founder of PASOK, and the grandson of George Papandreou, a liberal who was also twice Prime Minister. The Greek newspaper Kathemerini quoted a Greek voter during the campaign as saying: "Greeks like to know where our leaders have come from. We feel we know these families as well as we know our own."
In January New Democracy was leading PASOK in opinion polls by 7%. But Papandreou's election to the party leadership allowed PASOK to regain ground. During February Papandreou campaigned on "the need for change" in Greece, hoping to neutralise the strong sentiment for a change of government. By late February New Democracy's lead in the opinion polls had been cut to 3%.
The Athens daily Kathemerini commented: "Now, two weeks before the elections, all opinion polls show PASOK 3 to 4.5 percentage points behind ND. This raises the question of whether PASOK can snatch victory away from ND. The fact is that much is unclear. For example, although PASOK has little support, its leader has a good image in public opinion polls."
The electoral campaign concluded on in the traditional manner, with huge televised mass rallies in the centre of Athens by each of the major parties. On the evening of 4 March Caramanlis addressed an estimated 200,000 at the ND's concluding rally. PASOK claimed that twice that number attended their rally on 6 March, but these numbers cannot be independently verified. At the ND rally, Caramanlis said that PASOK had been in power too long and had grown lazy and corrupt. At the PASOK rally, Papandreou evoked the memory of his father but said that he would lead a government dedicated to reform and change, as well as action against corruption.
Since opinion polls are banned in the last two weeks of Greek election campaigns, it was not possible to predict the outcome of the election, except to say that ND appeared to have been leading when the last polls were published, and that most commentators expected the result in terms of votes to be close. Greek electoral law requires, however, that a party polling a plurity of votes (that is, more than any other party) must receive a majority of parliamentary seats. Greece was therefore assured of a majority government no matter how close the vote.
The result of the election was not as close as observers expected. It appears that ND regained its earlier lead over PASOK in the two weeks after the last opinion polls, and that the election of George Papandreou as PASOK leader was not sufficient to overcome the desire of the electorate for a change after a long period of PASOK rule.
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