Two members of the Turkish minority living in Greece have been elected to the Greek Parliament, according to preliminary results of the general elections held Sunday in Greece, where conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis won re-election with a diminished majority.
The elections came after a financial scandal surrounding the prime minister's party and devastating forest fires that killed more than 65 people last month. Meanwhile, the small right-wing Popular Orthodox Alarm Party (LAOS), which campaigned on immigrant quotas and opposition to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, appeared to have won 3.7 percent -- above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament and enough for 10 seats.
Last Mod: 18 Eylül 2007, 13:23
Ahmet Hacıosman from the Rodop prefecture and Çetin Mandacı from the İskeçe (Xanthi) prefecture, out of a total 14 Turkish candidates, were both elected from the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), led by George Papandreou. None of the Turkish candidates from the ruling New Democracy (ND) party were elected and İlhan Ahmet, a former Turkish member of parliament from Karamanlis' party, also failed to be re-elected, according to the preliminary results.
"I'll be working for Western Thrace Turks and the region for a better tomorrow," Hacıosman told the Cihan news agency on Monday. For his part, Mandacı expressed pleasure over the fact that the Turkish minority now has two representatives in Parliament and that he was elected as a deputy following the absence of a Turkish deputy from İskeçe for the past six years. The two pledged to work in cooperation for the resolution of the Turkish minority's problems. Meanwhile, Erol Kaşifoğlu, head of the Western Thrace Turks Solidarity Association (BTTDD), voiced confidence in both Hacıosman and Mandacı, saying he believed that they would do their best to protect the Turkish minority's rights there.
Nevertheless, the two Turkish deputies may have to work harder than they assumed due to the presence of the parliamentary presence of LAOS, which has been playing on public discontent with a wave of immigration using firebrand nationalist rhetoric.
"The main role of LAOS in the next parliament will be to [make sure] Greece will be for the Greeks," LAOS leader George Karatzaferis said on Sunday. Karatzaferis, a former bodybuilder, has called on Greeks to unite against "the enemies surrounding" the nation in a reference to Albania, Macedonia and Turkey.
LAOS rejects the nationalist tag, but in previous elections it has recruited members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group, which has been blamed for violent attacks against leftist groups and immigrants. Many Greeks blame a rising crime wave partly on Eastern European immigrants who fled after the collapse of communism. LAOS plays on such fears and has campaigned for quotas on immigration. "What we want is to set a limit. How many more can Greece take? And above all, they must come in legally, not jump over the fence," Karatzaferis told Reuters in a recent interview.
Meanwhile analysts suggested that the slimmer majority could make it harder for the government to carry out crucial economic and education reforms, including overhauling Greece's fractured and debt-ridden pension system. But the conservatives inflicted a stronger defeat than expected on their rival socialists, who were seen as being in disarray after receiving the lowest number of parliamentary seats in 30 years.
"Thank you for your trust. You have spoken loud and clear and chosen the course the country will take in the next few years," Karamanlis said Sunday as thousands of party supporters thronged the streets of central Athens, honking horns, chanting slogans and waving the blue flags of the ND party.
Karamanlis frequently states that his country is in favor of Turkey's EU entry. In a congratulation message sent to President Abdullah Gül, he expressed his desire for relations between the two countries to continue to improve "on the basis of international law." Karamanlis reaffirmed "the determination of Greece to work with Turkey to strengthen peace and stability in the region."
Papandreou, known for his firm support of Turkey's EU bid, conceded defeat. "The people have chosen and their decision is respected. PASOK fought hard but it did not succeed. People sensed that the poor state of public administration, with the scandals and fires, had deeper causes," Papandreou said.
The results indicated that the ND party would win enough seats in the 300-member Parliament to form a governing majority after the elections, which were called by Karamanlis six months early. With 94 percent of the votes counted, ND was ahead with 42.16 percent, while PASOK had 38.22 percent. The number of spoiled or blank ballots -- often considered a protest vote -- stood at 2.6 percent. Both major parties lost some support, but it was PASOK that fared the worst. PASOK looked set to win just 103 seats in parliament -- the lowest number it has held since 1977, when it had 93 seats.