Monday 25 September 2017

Former Greek prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis dies aged 98

Constantine Mitsotakis pictured in 1990, when he was New Democracy leader, at an election rally in Athens (AP Photo/Aris Saris, File)
Constantine Mitsotakis pictured in 1990, when he was New Democracy leader, at an election rally in Athens (AP Photo/Aris Saris, File)

Constantine Mitsotakis, a former conservative prime minister remembered for fierce confrontations with Greece's liberal and socialist parties during a 60-year political career, has died aged 98.

"Today at 1am Constantine Mitsotakis departed life, surrounded by those whom he loved and who loved him," his family said. No cause of death was given.

Mitsotakis served as prime minister between 1990 and 1993, a brief spell during two decades dominated by his Socialist rivals. He retired from active politics in 2004 but remained honorary chairman of the centre-right New Democracy party.

He was credited with starting unpopular financial reforms to loosen state control of the economy, and improving relations with Turkey.

But he was also often regarded as a divisive figure in a country struggling to escape its volatile political history.

Born in the port of Hania on the southern Greek island of Crete on October 18 1918, Mitsotakis was the nephew of liberal statesman Eleftherios Venizelos and was first elected to Parliament as a member of that party in 1946.

He served in several Cabinet posts, including finance minister, in liberal governments in 1951-52 and 1963-65.

But in 1965, he led a group of dissidents who abandoned George Papandreou's liberal Centre Union government following its clash with King Constantine II over control of the armed forces.

The meteoric rise of Andreas Papandreou, George's son and a US-educated economist who had returned to Greece in the early 1960s, was widely seen as a factor in Mitsotakis' split with the party.

The resulting political crisis and nearly two years of unstable government in part prompted a group of army colonels to carry out a coup in 1967.

Mitsotakis was arrested along with other politicians at the start of the seven-year dictatorship, and he later lived in exile in Paris until shortly before the junta collapsed in 1974.

In 1977, Mitsotakis re-entered Parliament at the head of the small Neoliberal Party and, the following year, joined the governing New Democracy party, serving first as finance minister and later as foreign minister.

He became the party's leader in 1984 while the conservatives were in opposition.

Mitsotakis emerged as the main adversary of Andreas Papandreou, who founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in 1974 rather than head his father's old party and then defeated the conservatives in a 1981 landslide.

Andreas Papandreou's son, George, became prime minister in 2009.

Mitsotakis narrowly won elections in 1990 after the Socialists became entangled in a financial scandal and polls in 1989 twice produced a hung parliament.

His administration was marked by a dispute with neighbouring Macedonia over the newly independent country's name and by large-scale union and student protests against his free market and education reforms.

Governing with a one-seat majority in Parliament, Mitsotakis' government was brought down by a group of conservative dissenters in 1993, condemning New Democracy to spend the next 11 years in opposition.

After his resignation as party leader, Mitsotakis urged governments to take bolder steps in their market reforms, and he led an unsuccessful effort for Greece's president to be elected directly by the people. He denied he coveted the country's top job.

Two of his children followed him into politics.

Mitsotakis' eldest daughter, Dora Bakoyannis was mayor of Athens during the 2004 Olympic Games and later was foreign minister in 2006-2009 in a New Democracy government.

Her husband, Pavlos Bakoyannis, a conservative politician, was shot dead in 1989 by members of the far-left Greek terrorist group November 17.

Mitsotakis, who enjoyed good health until late in life, also lived long enough to see his youngest child and only son, Kyriakos, elected as leader of New Democracy in January 2016.

Besides those two children, Mitsotakis is survived by two other daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife, Marika, died in 2012.

AP

Press Association

Editors Choice

Also in World News