Greece: Battered Greek Socialist party head to polls under new name

ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s once-dominant Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok, will participate in May’s European Parliament elections as part of a new centre-left alliance and not independently, after popular support for the party collapsed during the country’s painful economic bailout.

Pasok officials said Monday that its candidates would seek election in the May 22-25 polls under a newly formed Progressive Democrats’ Party, created by centre-left politicians and academics. A similar alliance is also planned for local government elections, also planned for May.

The Socialists dominated Greek politics for decades, but their popularity has been hammered as voters blamed the party for the country’s severe financial crisis and grew angry at austerity measures imposed under the country’s bailout.

Support for Pasok fell below 5 per cent in a December tracking poll, tumbling from nearly 44 per cent in a landslide general election victory in 2009.

“We would like to see our co-operation extended to national elections … Our party salutes the decision to create a broader alliance,” Dimitris Karidis, a Pasok spokesman, told the AP.

Pasok is currently the junior coalition partner in government with its traditional rivals, the centre-right New Democracy, as the two parties face a growing challenge from anti-bailout political groups.

The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement was founded 40 years ago by charismatic late prime minister Andreas Papandreou, months after the collapse of a military dictatorship, and swept to power in 1981. The party presided over extended periods of economic growth, spending 24 years in one-party governments and coalitions, but has been criticized for patronage in the public sector and cronyism.

The party currently dominates local government as well as the country’s representation in the European Parliament.

Analyst George Tzogopoulos said Pasok’s decision could limit the extent of its expected punishing defeat in the upcoming elections.

“The more the centre-left is united, the better for them,” said Tzogopoulos, a senior researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.

“Although the main challenge for them remains their alienation from voters, wider co-operation could soften the expected blow at the ballot box.”