The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) led by American-born George Papandreou is set to record a convincing victory in an election in Greece called two years ahead of time by the now outgoing Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis.
CNN reports that 87 per cent of the votes cast in Sunday's election have now been counted and PASOK, whose leader was born in Minnesota to an American mother and a father who was twice Prime Minister of Greece, has attracted 44 per cent of those votes.
The center-right New Democracy party, led by two-term Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, victorious in the elections of 2004 and 2007, is set to receive 34 per cent of the vote.
Those percentages will give PASOK approximately 160 seats in the 300-seat Parliament and New Democracy 93 seats, the result representing the worst performance in an election by the latter party for some 20 years.
According to MSN, with just a one seat majority in the Greek parliament, scandals, including a land-swap deal with a Greek Orthodox monastery which cost the state €100 million ($146 million), forcing several close associates to resign, and a deteriorating economic situation Mr Karamanlis called an election which opinion polls were indicating he was likely to lose.
Rising crime and rioting in the streets following the shooting of a 15-year-old boy by a police officer in Athens in December 2008 further undermined voter confidence in the Prime Minister.
It is also reported by CNN that Mr Papandreou's PASOK was threatening to block the election of a new President in February, the incumbent is PASOK's Karolos Papoulias, if a general election was not called. The two major parties in Greece must agree on the election of a new President, in accordance with the country's constitution.
With his supporters pouring on to the streets of Athens to celebrate his victory Mr Papandreou, 57, spoke to reporters, with Reuters quoting him as saying:Today we change the course for Greece and for our lives. Today we start a great national effort to put our country on a course of recovery, development and creation
Mr Karamanlis was proposing a cut in spending as a response to the economic difficulties that are likely to result in zero growth, if not a contraction, in Greece in 2009. Whilst Mr Papandreou is ready with a €3 billion ($4.4 billion) stimulus package which will see higher taxes paid by the richer members of Greek society in order to assist the less well-off.
Greece currently has a six per cent budget deficit and rising unemployment, with the tourism industry suffering especially badly from the effects of the global economic crisis. But the borrowing necessary to support Mr Papandreou's stimulus package has some economists worried, although Reuters says the markets will generally welcome the outcome of the election as it appears to offer some form of stability.
Kevin Featherstone, director of the London School of Economics' Hellenic Observatory, pointed out to CNN that corruption has long been a problem in Greek politics and suggested that tackling it was another challenge for the incoming administration. He said:These are systemic problems. These are problems which have been in Greece for generations. Over the last 20 years, we've had a succession of governments coming into power promising to clean up, promising to tackle waste, promising to reform the public administration, promising to be more transparent and clean. By and large, voters have been disappointed or there has been some fair degree of frustration and disappointment. Tackling the problem, these endemic problems, really requires major efforts to reform public administration to tackle corruption and to change the culture of expectations
Mr Karamanlis will be stepping down as leader of his party.