GREECE: A triumph, a defeat - and another scandal

An unexpected landslide victory to the Greek socialist party has raised
high expectations among the academic community, especially as new Prime Minister George Papandreou was Education Minister on two previous occasions.

The academic community was greatly encouraged during his pre-election campaign when Papandreou promised he would make available EUR1 billion (US$1.2 billion) for the immediate needs of education and would try to raise overall funding for education to 5% of GNP and research to 2% within the first four years of his administration.

In five and a half years, the former government had done nothing but support the development of private education at the expense of state education, while managing to reduce overall funding from 3.5% to just under 3% of the GNP. It also claimed Papandreou's promises would increase the country's deficit which it had raised to an unprecedented 10% of the GNP, three times higher than when the conservatives came in power in 2004.

Indicative of their attitude was the scandalous behaviour of the outgoing Education Secretary Aris Spiliotopoulosm who, less than eight months at the ministry, signed the act for the recognition of 33 private colleges without completion of the assessment procedure.

Although former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had led his party to three consecutive election wins, his administration collapsed under an avalanche of scandals, including wire-tappings, even of his own telephone, fraudulent financial dealings involving government ministers and abbots in the holy mountain, bribes, kick-backs and pay-offs by leading industrial firms to politicians, and many more.

Then there was his own inability to bring under control the increasingly growing arrogance and corruption of members of his administration which alienated large sections of the population including traditional voters of his own party.

Papandreou has already sent the right signals to the community by the appointment of Anna Diamantopoulou as the next Education Minister. Diamantopoulou is a former European Councillor, education spokeswoman while in Opposition and a member of the committee examining the new entrance examinations for higher education under Professor George Babiniotis.

She is young, sensitive, experienced and one of nine women, an unprecedented number, in Papandreou's cabinet. An indication of the way she intends to proceed with her duties will be whether she retains Babiniotis and his committee, and allow them to finish what they started, or present her own legislation, and whether she will rescind her predecessor's order for the 33 colleges because of the way it was done in the face of strong opposition from the entire academic community.

Over the last 11 months the election result was never in doubt although what was not known was the extent of the victory and whether the socialists would secure a large enough majority to govern and thus avoiding a repeat election in March 2010, or whether the left wing alliance would retain its portion of seats and whether the Green Party would secure the required 3% of the vote to enter parliament.

Opinion and exit polls failed miserably to predict or even come anywhere near the result - a clear majority for Papandreou. Once again the body politic proved a lot wiser than the politicians themselves. The public did not want to be involved in another election and decided to give Papandreou and the socialists a clear mandate to govern for the next four years.

Simultaneously they expressed their disapproval at the former government's unpopular policies in the most unequivocal manner. Karamanlis, who called the premature election in the hope of restricting the extent of the defeat, was dealt a double blow: his party's historic low percentage at the polls and the complete evaporation of his own hitherto undisputed popularity, forcing him not only to resign as Prime Minister but also as president of his party which is now entering a period of turmoil as party managers will be seeking his successor at a conference to be held next month.