Greeks head to polls for early elections

Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis called for early elections in response to pressure from opposition Socialist Party.
Greek voters head to the polls Sunday to elect a new government, two years before the elections were originally scheduled.

Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis called the early elections in response to pressure from the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement. The party threatened to block the election of a president in February if there was no general election first. The Greek constitution requires the two major parties to agree on the election of a president, giving either party an effective veto. Karamanlis is also seeking a mandate from the voters for reforms in response to the international financial crisis, he said. “It’s up to the citizens to decide who has the right plan to govern and face the economic challenges,” he said in a speech to the country in September. Karamanlis’ term was not due to expire until September 2011. But Socialist party leader George Papandreou insisted on new elections before the end of President Karolos Papoulias’ term as president in February.

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Karamanlis’ conservative New Democracy party suffered a sharp setback in European elections in June, when the Socialists matched New Democracy’s tally of eight seats, with 36 percent of the vote. That election was seen as a litmus test for Karamanlis at a time of political and economic uncertainty with the economy shrinking and the country staring at a recession after nearly 15 years of high-profile growth. Polls taken ahead of the Sunday elections showed the Panhellenic Socialist Movement beating Karamanlis’ party. Nearly 10 million Greeks are registered to vote.