NOAH ADAMS, host:
After a parliamentary election in Greece today, the conservative ruling party of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will remain in power. Exit polls indicate the New Democracy Party could have only a slim majority in parliament.
The election was held just weeks after devastating wildfires in Greece. Sixty-five people died as the Greek government struggled to cope with those fires.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, covered that story for us and is back in Athens today for the election.
Sylvia, what effect did those fires and those deaths and the government's action or the lack of it have on the election, do you think?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had called the votes six months ahead of schedule because he was confident his conservative New Democracy Party would have a landslide victory. But then the state's ineffective response to the fires raised the specter of a government defeat. And Karamanlis went into damage control mode. He immediately started issuing about $4,000 in compensation to each fire victim.
The opposition Socialist Party, which was haunted by its own corruption scandals during its long run in power in the past was unable to benefit from voter anger over the fires. Both major parties seemed to have lost ground to the advantage of smaller, radical parties on the left and on the right.
And for the first time in three decades, an extreme right wing party called L.A.O.S., which means Popular Orthodox Rally, will enter parliament. Another sign of voter protest is a low turnout, perhaps below 70 percent. And this is in a country where voting is considered compulsory.
ADAMS: And what do you think the result today of the voting is going to mean for the ruling party?
POGGIOLI: The New Democracy Party will be able to form a government on its own but it's a majority - seems to be slim and it could have a tough time passing reforms that are required to bring Greece into line with its European Union partners. Greece has to reduce its deficit, it's one of the highest in Europe, and reduce the large number of people living below the poverty line.
Prime Minister Karamanlis has ruled out a coalition with the ultra right wing nationalist L.A.O.S. Party. So there is a real danger of a hung parliament and political instability in the months to come.
ADAMS: Sylvia, finally, when you think about, or hear about Greek politics, there are names that go back for many decades - Papandreou, Karamanlis. Is this election, in any way, a turning point for the dynastic quality in politics there?
POGGIOLI: Well, it could be. It seems Greek voters cast their votes against this long entrenched political system that's been called the hereditary democracy. The political dynasties have run the country almost uninterruptedly for the past half-century. And today's results could be seen as the beginning of a rejection of this system. The worst off is Papandreou. In the two previous socialist governments, he distinguished himself as one of the best foreign ministers in Europe. Today, his party suffered its poor showings since the late 1970s.
For Karamanlis, the test would be whether he can manage to govern with his party alone or whether he'll have to call early elections once again. Whatever the outcome, the analysts here were saying this evening that this is the beginning of an uncertain political transition.
ADAMS: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli talking with us from Athens. Thank you, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Noah.
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