Turkish minority vote worth its weight in gold in Greek elections

Turkish minority vote worth its weight in gold in Greek elections

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' (T) incumbent conservative New Democracy party is expected to win the elections 5 to 7 points ahead of former Foreign Minister George Papandreou's (B) main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement party.

October 03, 2009, Saturday/ 17:11:00
After two years, Greece will head to the polls tomorrow for a critical general election in which the Turkish minority vote could be the determining factor in who assumes power. There are roughly 10 million people eligible to vote in this nation of 11 million, and they will select the people to serve the next four years in the 300-member Parliament.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' incumbent, conservative New Democracy  (ND) is expected, according to the most recent polls, to win the elections 5 to 7 points ahead of former Foreign Minister George Papandreou's main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).

Polls indicate that it would come as no surprise for PASOK to enter Parliament with a vote margin of 41.5 to 42 percent, or 151 to 154 deputies. This would be enough to form a single-party government -- but a weak one. It also depends, however, on how many minority parties are able to exceed the 3 percent threshold to enter Parliament, even as a five-party Parliament is expected to emerge again in the elections.

The other parties expected to enter Parliament along with the ND and PASOK are the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Even while the coalition option, not something familiar in Greek politics in the post-junta period, seems unlikely, neither the ND nor PASOK are willing to rule out the scenario entirely.

Economy main issue in elections

Political parties in Greece have completed their campaigning for the snap elections announced a month ago with rallies reminiscent of mass demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki. In his campaign Karamanlis tried to pull together his crestfallen party, focusing on the 10 to 12 percent of undecided voters. With his convincing speeches Karamanlis, attempting to emerge from the elections as unscathed as possible, was the leader who held the most campaign rallies, and he also tried to combat the flow of voters away from his party to PASOK and the extreme nationalist LAOS.

PASOK leader George Papandreou also visited Turks in Western Thrace as part of his election campaign.

On the other hand, Papandreou, whose party enjoys the most media support and leads the polls, has asked the populace for their votes in order to bring Greece out of the economic crisis with a strong single-party government. PASOK, which has a youthful, change-based and intellectual identity, aims to bring a modernizing vision to Greece, Papandreou has emphasized.

Prime Minister Karamanlis was forced to a snap election following a number of scandals over corruption involving government officials and other matters, devastating forest fires, the effects of the global financial crisis and social unrest and mass protests sparked when a police officer shot a teenager to death last December. Karamanlis said he was calling the election to “seek a fresh political mandate” in order to tackle Greece's financial woes. His party had only a one-seat majority in the recently dissolved Parliament.

The two main party leaders prescribe opposite cures for the financial crisis. Karamanlis says that a two-year period of “belt-tightening” is in order, while Papandreou says that a series of emergency measures that his party will take in their first 100 days in office will revitalize the economy and strengthen the social state.

1) Çetin Mandacı (PASOK) (T), 2) Aysel Zeybek (ND), 3) Ridvan Kocamümin (PASOK).

Karamanlis, a leader known for pleasant promises during campaign season, drew attention with his strict proposals to remedy the financial crisis. His efforts to improve the nation's finances, including new taxes, tighter pension rules and selling stakes in state-owned companies, have prompted strikes and protests across the nation. He says that in order to address Greece's troubled economy and growing deficit, wage and pension freezes were necessary to trim the debt, which is around 8 percent, over twice the European Union limit of 3 percent of output.

As for PASOK's Papandreou, he made promises to soothe the economic woes of everyday citizens during his campaign, saying he could still offer higher wages and more public spending while still taming the deficit, emphasizing that the situation of the people required emergency spending.

Progress in Turkish-Greek relations looking difficult

The hottest issue after the economy focused on by Karamanlis and Papandreou has been foreign policy. As a reaction to increasing voter preference for the ultranationalist LAOS, the leaders of the two parties increased the harshness in their tone on Turkish-Greek relations.

But because of the strong possibility of a weak governmental majority emerging from the elections, hesitation to improve Turkish-Greek relations could increase. Questions also exist over other foreign policy topics, such as the divided island of Cyprus, Macedonia and Turkey's EU bid -- what the new approach in Athens will be to these topics remains to be seen.

Karamanlis believes that the accession of a Turkey that has fulfilled all of the EU's admission requirements to the club would be to the advantage of the entire region. Papandreou also supports Turkish membership but faults Karamanlis' stance on a number of issues regarding Turkey, like Turkish military flights over airspace in the Aegean.

Papandreou says as prime minister he will, in the shortest time possible, take responsibility on the Cyprus issue to find a just and lasting solution to the dispute. He wants a solution within the framework of a two-region, two-society federation and also urges that Turkey refrain from influencing Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) head Mehmet Ali Talat on the issue during talks to be held later this year.

Turkish minority vote of critical importance

In Western Thrace there are 14 candidates from four different parties of Turkish descent running in the elections. A “Turkish votes to Turks” campaign that ensured success for Turkish candidates in the 2007 polls in Western Thrace is being repeated this year. While PASOK and the ND have added two Turkish names each to their five-candidate lists in the Rodop (Gümülcine) province, they also each have two Turkish candidates in İskeçe. There are no Turkish candidates in the Meriç (Evros) region where the Turkish population has decreased.

In Rodop (Gümülcine), Ahmet Hacıosman is running for re-election for his seat in Parliament on the PASOK lists, while the second Turkish candidate is Rıdvan Kocamümin, an attorney who is one of the provincial deputy governors. The ND's candidates are İlhan Ahmet, another incumbent from the 2004 elections, and businessman İdris Ahmet. Former deputy Dr. Mustafa Mustafa is running again with SYRIZA, as is Celalettin Yurtçu. As for the KKE, it is running businessman Faik Faik.

New names draw attention to the five-person lists in İskeçe province, where the political parties are running two Turks each. PASOK is running Çetin Mandacı, an incumbent defending a seat that he won in 2007, and psychologist Seval Osmanoğlu. The ND is running Ahmet Budur and journalist Aysel Zeybek. The other Turkish candidates in İskeçe are the KKE's Hasan Efendi and SYRIZA's forerunning candidates Hasan Malkoç and Hüseyin Zeybek.

The Turkish minority bloc is playing an important role in the ongoing power struggle between the ND and PASOK. The Turkish minority holds around 40,000 votes in Rodop and 30,000 in İskeçe. The ND and PASOK are upping the ante with get-out-the-vote measures aimed at Turks, including providing free bus transportation for 20,000 Greek citizens living in Turkey to Western Thrace so that they can cast their votes. They will also pay 50 euros per head for voters coming to Western Thrace from Greece to vote.

As happened in the last elections, it is expected that PASOK will send two Turks successfully to Parliament, which means that the contribution to PASOK's election performance could be significant, as only a handful of seats could be the difference between winning and losing. Indeed, such a result would mean that the minorities of Western Thrace would gain bargaining power in Parliament on issues related to minority rights.

But the Turkish minority is concerned in particular because during their time in power the leaders of PASOK and the ND have not made any promises with regards to unsolved problems facing minorities over education, economic backwardness, foundations, religious issues, organization and the denial of Turkish identity. While Karamanlis defends the “Modern Minority Police” based on equal citizenship for minorities, Papandreou asserts that minorities will be protected and that their rights will be guaranteed by the Greek state. Papandreou also emphasizes his opposition to interference from Turkey in Greek's minority affairs.

Turkish candidates speak

Theologian Ahmet Hacıosman, who has been active in politics since 1985, was selected with the most votes from the Rodop region in 2007 to become a deputy from PASOK. Hacıosman believes that an administration headed by Papandreou would be beneficial for minorities, saying: “Papandreou instructed us, saying: ‘Get ready; we're going to come to power. Prepare your plans and projects accordingly'.” Hacıosman says Papandreou will take sincere initiatives to solve minority issues and asserts that when he was foreign minister his work improved the lives of minorities in Greece.

As for Ahmet, elected to Parliament from Rodop as an ND candidate in 2004, he draws attention to the possibility of a “weak administration” and emphasizes that the Turkish minority could play a critical role in the election results, calling attention to the three Turkish candidates from PASOK. Noting the development of an extreme nationalism in Western Thrace, Ahmet said to counteract this Turks should vote for Turks. He expressed confidence that he would win a seat in Parliament.

PASOK's second Turkish Rodop candidate, Kocamümin, believes that “in power, PASOK would make it easier for minorities to have their rights returned and for the economy to develop.” He says if elected he will do his best to represent minorities in the best way possible.

Elected to Parliament as a PASOK candidate from İskeçe in 2007, Çetin Mandacı says in his term he worked in Parliament to find solutions to the problems faced by minorities. He expresses hope that in the new term he will be able to make more progress in this regard, also noting the impact of state foreign policy on Turks living in Greece. “An improvement in Turkish-Greek relations would have an impact on Western Thrace,” he says.

Aysel Zeybek, who was able to regain revoked Greek citizenship in Western Thrace only after a long battle that went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in her favor, says she wants to make history as the first woman elected to Parliament from İskeçe. She also calls for Turkish votes to go to Turkish candidates and says she will fight in Athens to solve the chronic problems of minorities, which include issues over education, religious freedom and economic and identity problems. She also emphasizes that someone needs to take an active role in addressing the future and societal problems that face minority women in Greece.

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