Though Indicted, Former Socialist Premier Is In The Running
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Despite open-heart surgery, a messy divorce and indictment on corruption charges, former Premier Andreas Papandreou is a strong contender in Sunday’s national elections.
Remarkably, the charismatic 70-year-old socialist and former economics professor appears to have held on to his personal support.
At a rally Sunday attended by tens of thousands of supporters, he insisted his party will triumph.
It was not an empty boast: three polls this month indicated Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) would retain the 39 percent it won in June’s election, when the conservative New Democracy party fared better but failed to attain a parliamentary majority.
″We are talking about victory. The forecasts look better every day,″ Papandreou told the Athens daily Epikairotita.
Actually, victory appears far from assured. Papandreou is going into the polls an underdog, after winning easy victories in 1981 and 1985 then losing his party majority in June. But no one is ruling him out.
Papandreou’s durability is due to several factors: political astuteness; the strong party loyalty of Greek voters; support from farmers and his autocratic rule of PASOK and personal charisma.
The most serious difficulty facing Papandreou are charges he authorized the embezzlement of millions from a private bank and instigated a wiretapping network with which he allegedly listened in on friends and foes.
In September, he was indicted by Parliament, the first Greek civilian leader ordered to stand trial for alleged wrongdoing in office. He and five former ministers are expected to be tried by special courts early next year.
Papandreou claimes the indictments stem from a conspiracy to annihilate him politically.
″Under the guise of performing a cleanup they settled personal and party accounts,″ he told his supporters Sunday. ″They promoted the defamation of their political rivals.″
His defense appears to have worked.
″We watched the (parliamentary) debates on television but no one was convinced that Papandreou is guilty,″ said Nikos Christonakis, a 78-year-old retired farmer and PASOK supporter on Crete. ″The government’s arguments were unconvincing.″
Political scientist Michalis Spourdalakis said the right- and left-wing parties may not get much advantage from attacking Papandreou on the scandals.
″They failed to understand that you don’t dismantle a movement which once enjoyed 48 percent of the vote,″ he said. ″A different political program is what’s needed.″
In addition to the scandal charges, conservatives and leftists accuse Papandreou of ruining the economy, citing a $58 billion deficit.
But farmers, who form 25 percent of the working population, point to improvements in education and health care in the countryside and to European Economic Community agricultural subsidies for which they credit the Socialists.
Papandreou has in the past won support from the left through pledging to pull Greece out of NATO and the EEC. However, he has acted pragmatically, keeping Greece in the EEC and negotiating a new five-year defense accord with the United States in 1983.
Spourdalakis says Papandreou was able to capitalize on the anti-American sentiments that followed the fall in 1974 of a seven-year military dictatorship that was seen as having enjoyed American support.
Papandreou promised a new future for Greece but also represented a link with the past. He was a Cabinet member in the centrist government of his father George, who was removed from power in 1965.
Spourdalakis says Papandreou personifies Greeks’ yearning for change in the political system: ″Being educated and a technocrat he could fulfill the demand for modernization in society, politics and the economy.″
The first serious blow to Papandreou came in August of 1988 when he left for London urgently for medical treatment. He underwent open-heart surgery that October and was hospitalized again in July for pneumonia and kidney failure.
He has a doctor at his side continually but claims that his health has not affected his ability to lead.
While in London, Papandreou went public with his affair with an air hostess half his age, Dimitra Liani. He was still married to his American-born wife of 38 years, Margaret. A poll conducted after the June elections found that PASOK had lost 7 percent of its women voters.
Papandreou married Liani in July and neither the opposition nor the press have concentrated on his personal life in this campaign.
One of the biggest questions about the elections is what will happen if - as in June - no one gains a majority.
After the June deadlock, The New Democrats and the Communist-led Coalition of the Left and Progress formed an unprecedented alliance with a limited mandate to clean up political life.
Having obtained the indictments it sought of Papandreou and its associates, the coalition government resigned Oct. 7.
The Communist coalition said recently tht it would consider governing with PASOK - but only if Papandreou were removed.