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Largess May Help but He's Still the Underdog in Today's Election : Greek Election: Vote of Thanks for Papandreou?

June 18, 1989|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | Times Staff Writer

DELPHI, Greece — The oracle doesn't work here any more, but echoes of her ancient craft ring loudly across a modern Greece papered blue and green by election frenzy.

Today's Delphic forecast, enigmatic but accurate, as history demands, is this: Andreas Papandreou deserves his fate.

So say the unabashed faithful of Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK, whose green predominates in prosperous villages around this cliff-side town that Zeus himself anointed as the center of the Earth.

So, too, say the blues of conservative Constantine Mitsotakis, whose New Democracy Party expects to bury at the polls an autocrat they call immoral and corrupt.

"Three weeks driving around the country, and everything's either blue or green--about even, we decided," said Susy Beall of Torrance, who, with architect husband Ed, came for a vacation and happened on a key national election.

Mitsotakis and the New Democracy Party lead in the scientific polls, but the patriarch Papandreou is, as ever, the man to watch as he struggles to win a third prime ministerial term. He's on the ropes, but nobody is counting him out yet.

If, as many Greek analysts expect, the conservatives fall short of an outright parliamentary majority today, Papandreou could cause mischief yet--alone, or in cahoots with Communists expected to finish a distant third.

The consensus prediction is for a New Democracy victory by about eight percentage points.

The key question, though, is whether the conservatives can get the votes Mitsotakis needs for an assured majority in the 300-seat Parliament. Modern pollsters, in vague terms known to generations of Delphi forecasters, hedge their bets, warning that as many as 20% of voters were still undecided.

In largely blue and highly politicized Athens, the case against another four-year term for the 70-year-old Papandreou is made with gusto. His government and party have been tarred by the largest financial scandal in Greek history.

Questionable health following heart surgery and dull public leadership amid a show-stopping affair with a woman half his age have undermined both Papandreou's credibility and his authority.

One columnist calls Papandreou's Greece "the banana-less republic." New Democracy says Papandreou is a national embarrassment, demeaning a nation of 11 million in the eyes of Greece's allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European community.

But, here in the Greek heartland, not many people are laughing. Instead, they count their blessings: roads, schools, hospitals and an unprecedented sense of well-being that have come during the Papandreou years.

In Delphi itself, where the petit bourgeois heirs of the gods Gaia and Pythia sell stuffed grape leaves and peasant blouses to unending tourist caravans, the election color is predictably blue.

In neighboring Amfisa, though, the market town capital of olive-growing Fokida province, PASOK loyalists say Papandreou has carved a legacy worth defending. Amfisa, more than 2,000 years old, never had it so good.

"We won in '81, we won in '85, and we'll win this time by an even bigger margin--maybe 50%," boasted Thanasis Latifis, a 62-year-old retired accountant and PASOK volunteer.

Aided by massive foreign borrowing and subsidies from the European Community, Papandreou has spent liberally in the name of socialism. Government jobs, loans to friendly businesses, pensions for farmers--and their wives--all will bear fruit today for PASOK.

"We have a new hospital--125 beds--paved roads, housing for workers, day-care centers for children, a new bank, an elementary school, a high school and a sport stadium; all in eight years and all thanks to PASOK," said Andrea Basbajianni, a 39-year-old Amfisa auto mechanic. "We have money, too. People used to dream of having a car. Now many here have two cars."

Down on the coast, 12 miles and 400,000 olive trees from Delphi, the race is neck and neck in the tiny port of Itea. There, too, Papandreou's public works, including a swimming pool, have changed life styles for the better without eliminating left-right differences that run deep in Greece.

"Best of all is the freedom PASOK has brought. We can read what we want, say what we want. We don't fight with the New Democracy people, but we don't trust them either," said a 23-year-old university student. "I won't give you my name because then if the New Democracy wins I won't be able to get a job."

If Athens is consumed by the seamy sides of Papandreou's last year in power, the impact is muted in the countryside.

"We don't care about his personal life," said Latifis.

Asked about allegations by jailed banker-embezzler George Koskotas that he paid off millions to Papandreou and members of his government, a good-natured crowd at PASOK headquarters in Itea hooted in derision.

"Koskotas! He's an American spy," shouted one woman. "C-I-A!" chanted others, echoing assertions by Papandreou that the United States is seeking his ouster.

In Athens, New Democracy leaders like Stephanos Manos, a likely economics minister in a Mitsotakis government, said there is less to the bedrock Papandreou support than meets the eye.

"Many Greeks, particularly in the countryside, get all their news from television, which is government-controlled and as a consequence has not found any of the financial scandals very newsworthy," said Manos.

Manos, for one, is guessing that New Democracy "will go straight through," with about 47% of the vote. If no majority is forthcoming today, that would leave the also-ran coalition of Communists and leftists holding the key to any government.

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