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Greek Election Likely to be Close - 2004-03-06

Greeks go to the polls Sunday, in what likely will be a close election between the conservative opposition party and the socialists who have held power since 1993.

Recent surveys of the country's 10 million voters indicate the conservative New Democracy Party of Costas Karamanlis holds a three point lead over the socialist PASOK Party led by former Foreign Minister George Papandreou. That lead has dropped from a more formidable eight points since Mr. Papandreou assumed his party's leadership in February from outgoing Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

In a televised address Friday, Mr. Papandreou responded to New Democracy charges of dishonesty and croneyism, saying his party has made mistakes in governing over the past decade. But he asked voters to give him an opportunity to address the corruption.

If he was convincing, the socialists will win an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office. They have held power for 19 of the last 23 years, in a country where voting is mandatory.

The election will be determined by the more than 10 percent of voters who are undecided. The strength of the 18 other parties listed on Sunday's ballot will also be a factor.

Mr. Pandreou and Mr. Karamanlis both come from Greek political dynasties. The socialist leader's father founded PASOK in 1974 and served three times as premier. His grandfather also was premier in the 1960s.

Mr. Karamanlis, who, at 47, would be Greece's youngest prime minister since 1945, is the nephew of the founder of New Democracy, a man who served as prime minister in the 1950s.