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Heir to Greek dynasty faces challenge

George Papandreou (right), alongside challenger Evangelos Venizelos, is fighting to remain head of the PASOK party. George Papandreou (right), alongside challenger Evangelos Venizelos, is fighting to remain head of the PASOK party. (Giannis Panagopoulos/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE 2004)
Email|Print| Text size + By Elena Becatoros
Associated Press / November 11, 2007

ATHENS - The heir to one of Greece's two most enduring political dynasties faces a battle today to safeguard his family's legacy as he is challenged by a law professor for the leadership of Greece's socialist party.

George Papandreou, the son and grandson of two most influential postwar prime ministers in the country, is fighting to remain head of the PASOK party.

He is being challenged by former culture minister Evangelos Venizelos. A third contender, former party secretary Costas Skandalidis, lags far behind the other two in opinion polls and is considered unlikely to win.

PASOK's grass-roots supporters will chose their new leader after an intense campaign centering around which candidate is more likely to lead the party to victory in the future. Hundreds of thousands are expected to cast ballots today. The vote is open to anyone who registers as a supporter or "friend" of the party, and a candidate needs 50 percent of the votes cast plus one to win.

PASOK was founded by Papandreou's father, Andreas. A charismatic politician, the elder Papandreou was best known for his fiery anti-US rhetoric and his public affair with a flight attendant half his age, whom he later married.

Two political dynasties have alternated power for a half-century. Greece has had a Papandreou or a Karamanlis as prime minister for 30 of the 45 years of democratic governance since 1955, excluding the 1967-74 military dictatorship. The current prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, is the nephew of the late conservative prime minister Constantine Karamanlis.

"We are a country of political dynasties," said political analyst Giorgos Kyrtsos. "We have Karamanlis, we have Papandreou."

And Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, the daughter of former conservative premier Constantine Mitsotakis "is waiting," Kyrtsos said. "It's exceptionally difficult to avoid political dynasties here."

The phenomenon is spreading, he said, pointing to the United States, with the Bush and Clinton families, and Argentina, where President Néstor Kirchner's wife has been elected to replace him.

"It seems that instead of us modernizing, the international community is adapting to our particularities."

PASOK, which stormed to power in 1981 with Andreas Papandreou at its helm and remained there for much of the next 20 years, suffered a humiliating defeat in September. The party's 38 percent of the vote in Greece's early elections gave it just 102 seats in Parliament - the lowest number in 30 years.

The defeat came under the leadership of the founder's 55-year-old son, George, a former foreign minister. And for some party stalwarts, it seemed too much to bear.

Barely had Papandreou concluded his concession speech than Venizelos challenged his leadership, throwing PASOK into turmoil.

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