(AFP) – Sep 17, 2007
ATHENS (AFP) — Greek President Karolos Papoulias asked Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to form a new government Monday after the ruling conservative New Democracy party won weekend elections with a thin majority.
New Democracy (ND) and the main opposition socialist Pasok both lost support to the left and extreme right in Sunday's vote, following widespread public anger over the handling of deadly forest fires last month.
"We are fully aware of our responsibility and, we must go forward quickly and with determination to make the country progress," Karamanlis said after his meeting with Papoulias.
Under the constitution he has three days to form a government, which he has said would be smaller and contain "new blood."
Karamanlis looks certain to reshuffle the previous cabinet that had become increasingly unpopular in recent months.
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis are expected to retain their posts.
But Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, who is responsible for the fire department, was discredited after last month's infernos killed more than 60 people around the country.
Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou also looks out, failing to secure her place in the wake of a controversy over a history schoolbook deemed too soft on Greece's traditional rivals Turkey.
Education will be a hotspot in the coming months with Karamanlis intent on promoting a university reform that sparked mass protests earlier in the year.
Earlier Monday, parliament speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki gave the president the official make-up of the new 300-seat parliament, in which ND will have 152 seats, down from 165 in the last assembly.
Pasok has 102 seats, down from 117, under a new proportional representation system being used for the first time.
The communist KKE party made major gains, winning 10 more seats for a total of 22, the radical Left Coalition got 14 seats, up eight, while the new extreme-right Laos party entered parliament with 10 seats.
Despite his reduced majority, Karamanlis said in a televised address to the nation: "You have given a clear mandate to New Democracy to continue the changes and reforms which the country needs."
He added: "I will do my utmost to honour your confidence as prime minister of all Greeks."
"I asked you to vote for a stable government. This government exists today," Karamanlis said.
The prime minister, who turned 51 on Friday, has pledged to push forward with economic reforms, including overhauling the tottering pensions system.
The measures have proved unpopular with unions and leftist groups, causing mass demonstrations in recent months and promising more trouble for the new government.
Socialist leader George Papandreou, a former foreign minister, conceded a second straight defeat to his conservative rival as ND supporters danced in the streets of Athens and Salonika, Greece's second city, waving party flags, sounding car horns and setting off fireworks.
"Pasok gave a great battle but it could not win. We all had responsibilities in this battle, myself above all," he said.
Papandreou, 55, said he would put his leadership to a Pasok vote "to restore the party's trust" in him.
Former culture minister Evangelos Venizelos and former European commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou are expected to stand as candidates to replace him.
Karamanlis' party won a second term despite concerns that his government's credibility had been damaged by its handling of forest fires which killed more than 60 people.
He called early elections in August, six months before the end of his government's mandate.
Opposition party officials emphasized that the ND victory was a far cry from its triumph in 2004.
"This is a Pyrrhic victory for Karamanlis, whose government will be much weaker," said former finance minister Yiannos Papantoniou.
But Karamanlis has stressed that he intends to push his agenda through even with a small majority.
"It's not a matter of numbers, it's a matter of political will ... which I can guarantee," he said in his last interview ahead of the elections on Antenna TV.
Fears of a low turnout because of voter alienation from the fires were not realised. Around 74 percent of registered voters cast ballots compared to 76 percent in the last election.
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