Greece Government and Politics

State and politics

Greece Country Flag

Greece was ruled in 1967-1974 as a military dictatorship under Georgios Papadopoulos (overthrown in a coup 1973). King Constantine II, who went into exile in connection with the 1967 coup, was formally deposed in 1974, when the republic of Greece was introduced.


The Head of State (President) is elected by Parliament for a term of five years and may be re-elected once. In 1986, the constitution was amended so that the president, in addition to being the commander-in-chief and the person who designates government, mainly has representative duties. President since March 2020 is Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou. She is the first woman to hold the post.

Parliament has a House with 300 members elected in direct elections for a four-year term. Of the mandate, 250 are distributed proportionally. The largest party receives an extra 50 seats to strengthen the foundation for government formation. In order to be included in the distribution of seats, a party must receive more than 3 percent of the total number of votes. Following the request of the Prime Minister, the President can dissolve Parliament and announce early new elections.

The UN Committee on Human Rights noted in 2015 that women are under-represented in decision-making. Greece has a quota law that stipulates that 30 percent of the candidates in each party should be represented by the gender, but this is not accompanied.

Political parties

Until the beginning of the 2010 century, Greek politics was dominated by two major parties – Nea Democratia (ND, ‘New Democracy’) and Panellino Socialistiko Kinima (PASOK, ‘The All-Greek Socialist Movement’).

ND was formed in 1974 to gather conservatives and liberals. It is a center-right party, which ruled during the Republic’s first two parliamentary terms. Thereafter, it reigned for a total of nine more years until 2009. The party’s policy is market liberal and support for EU and NATO membership is strong. In recent years, the Party has come strongly associated with a tough economic reform policy to regain international political confidence in Greece and to ensure continued participation in euro cooperation. In 2012–15, ND led a coalition in which PASOK was also included and returned to power after the 2019 election.

The Social Democratic PASOK is a continuation of the resistance movement PAK from the junta era. The party was pushing socialization issues early and wanted Greece to leave the NATO military alliance and not join the EC/EU. These objectives have disappeared today and the party, which has long alternated with the ND as a government party, represents a traditional social democratic policy. Since 2012, PASOK is no longer one of Parliament’s largest parties.

Communistiko Comma Elladas (KKE, ‘Greece’s Communist Party’) has long been pursuing radical social issues. KKE has been one of the strongest critics of the government’s austerity policy and the negotiations with the lending countries and the IMF during the 10th century. The party has strong roots in the trade union movement, but nevertheless has not significantly increased its voter support during the crisis. Since the mid-1990s, KKE has received 4.5–8.5 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections.

The Coalition Synaspismos tis Rizospastikis Aristeras (Syriza, ‘The Left Radical Coalition’) was formed in 2004 and was transformed in 2013 into a party. Syriza has its voter support mainly among radical leftist groups, ecologists and EU and euro critics. The party was in office 2015–19.

Crysi Avgi (XA, ‘Golden Dawn’), whose party history dates back to the 1980s, has during the 10’s crises been perhaps the most debated party. This is due to the presence of Nazi symbols and slogans in the political message of the party, which is dominated by criticism of the crisis policy pursued, in particular lack of efforts to reduce unemployment, and demands for a stop to immigration. The party has also been drawn to a series of violent demonstrations. After gaining about 7 percent in the 2012 and 2015 elections, Gyllene dawned under the three percent block in the 2019 elections and thus became without parliamentary seats.

In 2014, the Party To Potami (‘The River’) was formed by journalist Stavros Theodorakis (born 1963). The party represents a centrist and pro-European line, with elements drawn from both European liberalism and social democracy, and has at most received just over 6 percent of the vote. It was represented in both the European Parliament and the national parliament after the 2014 and 2015 elections, respectively. In 2019, the party became without a seat in the European Parliament and did not stand in the national election.

After the September 2015 elections, for the first time, the centrist and social-liberal party Enosis Kentrou (EC, the “Center Union”) took office. The party has been in Greek politics for a long time, but in 2015 greatly increased its support among voters. The election result in September 2015 was 3.4 percent of the vote, which was enough for 9 seats. In 2019, EK was well below the three percent barrier.

Results in parliamentary elections

Voting and mandate distribution for the main parties in the parliamentary elections since 1974

1974 54.4/200 13.6/12
1977 41.8/171 25.3/93 9.4/11
1981 35.9/115 48.1/172 10.9/13
1985 40.8/126 45.8/161 9.9/12
1989 (June) 44.3/145 39.1/125 13.1/28 1
1989 (November) 46.2/148 40.7/128 11.0/21 1
1990 46.9/150 38.6/123 10.3/19 1
1993 39.3/111 46.9/170 4.5/9
1996 38.1/108 41.5/162 5.6/11
2000 42.7/125 43.8/158 5.5/11
2004 45.4/165 40.5/117 5.9/12 3.3/6
2007 41.8/152 38.1/102 8.2/22 5.0/14
2009 33.5/91 43.9/160 7.5/21 4.6/13
2012 (May) 18.9/108 13.2/41 8.5/26 16.8/52 10.6/33 7.0/21 6.1/19
2012 (June) 29.7/129 12.3/33 4.5/12 26.9/71 7.5/20 6.9/18 6.2/17
2015 (January) 27.8/76 4.7/13 5.5/15 36.3/149 4.8/13 6.3/17
2015 (September) 28.1/75 6.3/17 2 5.6/15 35.5/145 3.7/10 7.0/18
2019 39.8/158 8.1/22 3 5.3/15 31.5/86 2.9/0

ND = New Democracy
PASOK = All-Greek Socialist Movement
KKE = Greek Communist Party
Syriza =
Western Radical Coalition ANEL = Independent Greeks
XA = Golden Dawn
DIMAR = Democratic Left

1 Left coalition Synaspismos
2 Democratic coalition
3 Movement for change


Greek politics has been characterized mainly by a deep economic crisis, which has affected the population through high unemployment and social cuts in the last over a decade. The parties have disagreed about how best to handle the situation and how the government should relate to the terms of the so-called rescue packages (support loans) offered by international lenders.

The 2009 election was a great success for PASOK, which with 160 seats had the basis to form government. The party was then led by Giorgos Papandreou – the third generation Papandreou in the post of Greek Prime Minister. In 2010-11, the PASOK government’s crisis management policy was subjected to increasingly harsh criticism, and Papandreou was forced to resign.

The elections in May 2012, June 2012, January 2015 and September 2015, were all early elections and had their background in the political turbulence that arose because of the economic crisis that the Greek state was in during the 2010 century.

The 2012 elections resulted in PASOK losing 30 percentage points in the voting share and close to 80 percent of its mandates. Syriza, on the other hand, gradually strengthened its position and, with its 26.9 percent of the vote (71 seats) in the June elections, became the second largest party in parliament. The parliamentary situation was changed by the Golden Dawn, which is often described as neo-Nazi, and two more parties took over the three percent barrier. The others were Dimokratiki Aristera (DIMAR, ‘Democratic Left’) and the right-wing party Anexartitoi Ellines (ANEL, ‘Independent Greeks’), which was formed in 2012 by outbreaks from ND. The latter is conservative with strong nationalist features and is against the agreements on EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) support loans. In June 2012, ND succeeded: born 1951) finally form a coalition government together with PASOK and DIMAR.

Participation in the government led by the ND in 2012–15 led to both increased popular criticism of PASOK and increased contradictions within the party. In January 2015, PASOK made its worst choice so far with 4.7 percent of the vote and 13 seats. Prior to the new elections in September 2015, PASOK entered into an agreement on election cooperation with DIMAR with only marginally better results. The September election was prompted by the tough conditions for emergency loans drawn up by the foreign lenders, which in the summer of 2015 led to a tense domestic political situation and the government’s departure.

In the 2015 elections, ND received approximately the same proportion of votes as before, but as Syriza took over the position as the largest party in parliament, the 50 additional seats went to this party. Syrias party leader Alexis Tsipras was sworn in as prime minister in January 2015 in the first Greek government since 1974 which lacked representation for the old major parties ND and PASOK. Tsipras himself became the country’s youngest head of government since 1865.

After the successful election, Syriza elected to the coalition partner ANEL. The first reign became very turbulent. Tsipras long maintained its ambition to negotiate better loan terms and debt write-offs, but was met by tougher counterclaims from the lending states and institutions. In a swiftly organized referendum in 2015, the government received support for its course of action, but shortly thereafter Tsipras was forced to accept the lenders’ demands to save Greece from economic collapse. In mid-August, Parliament voted for a third aid package linked to promises of continued cuts and structural reforms. The result was that the government resigned and new elections were announced until September.

Syriza was shaken by strong internal contradictions and a group of critical members left the party and formed a new party. Despite this, Syriza backed just under one percentage point in the September elections and could remain in power. Tsipras chose to continue the coalition government with ANEL, whose 10 seats gave the government a scarce majority in parliament. The decreased confidence in the country’s politicians was manifested in the low turnout, 57 percent compared to the 74 percent which was the average turnout in the 1990s.

The Greek economy was further squeezed during the refugee crisis in 2015. The country was granted some debt relief in 2016, but unemployment reached close to 28 percent this year. In May 2017, violent riots broke out in Athens. The protesters objected to a austerity package in the form of reduced pensions and increased taxes from 2019/20 demanded by foreign lenders for new support packages. However, the proposals were approved by a small majority of Parliament. In 2018, the acute debt crisis was estimated to be over and the country’s economy had begun to grow somewhat while unemployment fell below 20 percent.

The government’s decision in 2018 to recognize neighboring Macedonia under the new name Northern Macedonia intensified the conflict with the opposition. Despite the positive economic trend, in July 2019 Syriza lost government power to New Democracy, which advanced strongly in the elections and gained its own majority while Syriza backed down slightly and ANEL chose not to stand. Before the election, PASOK formed the alliance Kinima Allagis (‘Movement for Change’) together with some smaller parties, but it received only 8 percent of the vote. Two new parties – the nationalist Elliniki Lisi (‘Greek solution’) and the ‘grassroots party’ Movement for Democracy in Europe 2025 (MeRA25) – took place in Parliament while Golden Dawn departed.

ND, which was opposed to the agreement with Northern Macedonia, went to elections on promises of reduced taxes, privatizations and improved conditions for business. The Prime Minister has been party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis since 2016.

In March 2020, the country’s first female president, Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou, was sworn in, succeeding Prokopis Pavlopoulos (born 1950).


The foundations of the legal system consist of the Civil Act of 1940 (in force since 1946), the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Act of 1950 and a Civil Procedure Act of 1967. A French-inspired commercial law also exists. The judicial organization consists, in principle, of three courts: district courts, appellate courts and a Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, Arios Pagos, which only settles legal issues and does not re-examine the appellate courts’ assessment of facts in the case. Greece has no commercial courts. However, a system of administrative courts exists, with the so-called State Council as the highest authority. In recent years, the legal system has been affected by Greece’s membership of the EU. The death penalty was abolished in 2004; the last execution took place in 1972.

Human Rights

The international economic crisis of 2009 hit hard on the already weak Greek economy. Dissatisfaction with savings packages and austerity in the social safety nets led to popular protests and violent mass demonstrations even into the 2010s. Dissatisfaction parties with openly xenophobic rhetoric increased significantly in membership and various forms of xenophobic statements became a real problem in the country.

During the 2010s, Greece has dropped significantly in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. In 2005, the country was ranked 18th, ten years later in the 2015 index, Greece is ranked 91th out of 180 and thus is the second lowest ranked country in the EU after Bulgaria. The main cause of the huge decline is the violence the police are waging against journalists during demonstrations. In addition, the economic crisis has had a negative impact on media diversity.

The most central human rights problem that Greece is experiencing today is widespread unprovoked racist violence against immigrants and individuals belonging to ethnic minorities or perceived as foreigners. UNHCR and NGOs have reported frequent attacks, often with severe personal injury, on immigrants from right-wing groups on immigrants, and several perpetrators have been members of the Golden Dawn political party. Several attacks have been targeted at women wearing traditional Muslim costumes.

The discrimination against the Roma population in Greece is evident. Many Roma children are placed in separate classes or in completely different Roma schools. Lack of transport opportunities to the Roma schools means that many Roma children are completely outside the school world. The social and structural discrimination of Roma makes Roma women and children the most vulnerable in the country.

Also, hate crimes against LGBT people are a societal problem that tends to increase in scope.

Heads of State

1827-31 Ioannis Kapodistrias
King (Wittelsbach House)
1832-62 Otto I
Kings (house of Glücksborg)
1863-1913 Georg I
1913-17 Constantine I
1917-20 Alexander I
1920-22 Constantine I
1922-23 Georg II
1924-26 Pavlos Koundouriotis
1926 Theodoros Pangalos
1926-29 Pavlos Koundouriotis
1929-35 Alexandros ZaÍmis
Kings (house of Glücksborg)
1935-47 Georg II (in exile 1941–46)
1947-64 Paul I
1964-73 Constantine II (in exile from 1967)
1973 Georgios Papadopoulos
1973-74 Fedon Gizikis
1974-75 Michael Stasinopoulus
1975-80 Konstantin Tsatsos
1980-85 Konstantinos Karamanlis
1985-90 Christos Sartzetakis
1990-95 Konstantinos Karamanlis
1995-2005 Konstantinos Stefanopoulos
2005-15 Karolos Papoulias
2015-20 Prokopios Pavlopoulos
2020 Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou

Greece Head of Government

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