AFTER a period of ministerial stability Greece once again finds herself in a phase of political uncertainty. From July 4, 1928, down to the present time, with the brief interval of Mr. Papanastasiou's eight days' Premiership in May of this year, Mr. Venizelos has been Prime Minister, thus beating all Greek records for length of service except that of Trikoupes in 1886-90 and his own in 1910-15. Supported by a huge majority, Mr. Venizelos was able to give the weary country a comparatively long experience of quiet but resolute government and to pass a series of measures, the enumeration and explanation of which fill an electoral pamphlet of two hundred and eighty-one pages.

But past achievements are in no country a secure basis for future electoral triumphs. English political history is full of examples of that fact. Everywhere, and not least in Greece, as St. Paul observed, the people want something new; everywhere governments long in power offend powerful interests; everywhere there is an uncertain mass of voters with no fixed political convictions but liable to be moved by vague hopes and past disillusionments. In the present case the character and methods of Mr. Venizelos increased this tendency. No Prime Minister of our time is less of a demagogue. The remark attributed to him by Emil Ludwig, that, having been elected by a large majority of the people, he insisted upon governing it, may be merely the suggestion of an historical novelist, but the fact remains that again and again this vigorous Cretan -- and the Cretans are the Scots of Greece -- refused point-blank to withdraw measures which he considered necessary and beneficial to the general welfare, simply because they would offend large sections of the electorate. Such independence on the part of governments is rare in democratic countries, where the tail usually wags the dog and a Prime Minister follows his followers. But Mr. Venizelos is of the oak, not of the willow; frangar non flectar is his motto, and less than ever in recent times has he suffered contradiction gladly. To these considerations must be added the factor of the refugees. At previous elections since their arrival in 1922 they had mostly voted for the Republicans, because they held the Royalists responsible for the Asia Minor catastrophe; but in 1932 they were divided, because all their hopes and demands had not been realized by successive Republican Governments.

It was evident, then, that Mr. Venizelos would emerge from the elections of September 25 with a diminished majority. The elections were held (as in 1926, but not as in 1928) on the system of proportional representation, of which Mr. Venizelos personally disapproves but which was considered desirable in the peculiar circumstances of the moment. The result, as is usually the case under that system when numerous small parties enter the field, was indecisive. The Liberals, or Venizelists, headed the poll with 100 deputies out of 250, as against 178 in 1928. The Popular Party (Royalist) increased its following from 19 to 95. The remaining 55 seats were divided between eight smaller parties, of which the most numerous was the Progressive Party of Mr. Kaphandares, an ex-Premier and former lieutenant of Mr. Venizelos, from whom he has been unfortunately separated since 1928. This second Republican group obtained 15 seats, while Mr. Papanastasiou, who, as Prime Minister, made the Republic in 1924, obtained 10 seats for his Agrarian-Labor Party, the successor of the Republican Union. The total of the votes cast told much the same tale: the Liberals obtained 394,466, the Royalists 391,176, the Progressives 96,320, and the Agrarian-Labor Party 68,802. Thus the Venizelists and the Royalists were almost equal; but the Republican parties together -- if they can work together -- have a majority over the Royalists.

The result was, from the standpoint of the nation, unfortunate. What Greece wants at this moment, when financial questions overshadow all others, is a strong government prepared to carry out an unpopular policy of drastic economies. Failing such a strong government, composed of one party -- and such a government was obviously impossible -- an "Œcumenical" Government of all parties (except perhaps the Communists, who obtained 10 seats, as against none in 1928) was indicated and persistently urged by the patriotic President of the Republic, Mr. Zaïmes. Twice before had such a government been formed: once in 1877, at the crisis of the Russo-Turkish War, under the presidency of the venerable Admiral Kanares, who in 1822 had burnt the Capitan-Pasha's flagship off Chios, and once in 1926, under the Premiership of the present President of the Republic, with whom all the present party leaders except Mr. Venizelos (then absent from Greece and out of politics) collaborated, including Mr. Tsaldares, the Royalist chief.

After wearisome attempts to form an "Œcumenical" Government, which were defeated by Mr. Tsaldares's refusal to participate in such a combination, a temporary solution was reached on November 4 when Mr. Tsaldares became Prime Minister of a Coalition Cabinet composed of members of only three parties -- his own, and those of Generals Kondyles and Metaxâs. As the latter two parties consisted of only 8 deputies between them, the total forces of the Coalition numbered only 103 out of 250 deputies. But Mr. Tsaldares took office on the explicit understanding that Mr. Venizelos would promise to "tolerate" his financial measures -- a "toleration" also conceded by Messrs. Kaphandares and Papanastasiou. In practice this meant that a sufficient number of the Opposition would abstain from voting against the Government to keep it in power for the time being. In other words, it is a government on sufferance, and its existence is uncertain, especially as Mr. Tsaldares's own party has occasionally shown signs of disunion and disobedience. Individualism is a strong element in the Greek character, and dissident tendencies are apt to develop in parties when in power. Opposition unites, responsibility divides.

The most important portfolio in the Cabinet, that of Finance, is held by Mr. Tsaldares himself, on the British principle that the Minister should not be an expert; for the new Prime Minister is a distinguished lawyer, not a financier. The two leading financial experts of his party, who were supposed to have in their pockets a plan for restoring the finances of Greece, both refused office when it was offered to them -- a not infrequent attitude of critics everywhere. But Mr. Tsaldares has in his Under-Secretary of Finance, Mr. Eulambros, an expert who has written in English a book on the National Bank of Greece. In like manner, the Foreign Office has been entrusted to a politician who has not specialized in international affairs -- Mr. John Rhalles, son of the famous Premier of 1897, 1909 and 1920; but Greek foreign relations are now mainly financial. The appointment of so staunch a Republican as General Kondyles as Minister of War is a guarantee that the army cannot be used against the existing régime, or officers removed from their posts because they are Republicans.

While it is always rash to forecast the political future in Greece, there is no reason to suppose that, because the Popular Party polled so many votes at the last election, the Glücksburg dynasty therefore will be shortly reinstalled at Athens. Far more electors probably voted for the followers of Mr. Tsaldares because they were "Popular" than because they were "Royalists." Monarchists in Greece are apt to be anti-Venizelists rather than Royalists, and the writer knows of a prominent monarchist who refused to speak to Mr. Venizelos (who was not favorable to the proclamation of the Republic in 1924), yet is on friendly terms with Mr. Papanastasiou, the first Republican Premier. George II has himself stated that he will never return to Greece as a party leader, but only as the chosen of the Greek majority of the people. Therein he has shown wisdom, for a king who is a party leader is certain to share the vicissitudes of his party, besides discontenting a number of his more ardent partisans if he ventures to show favor to the less zealous. All kings in exile are in these days not anxious to return to what a novelist has called "draughty palaces" and a life of humdrum and boring ceremonial. They have a very good time abroad -- despite the British income-tax, if they settle in England -- and are, as ex-monarchs, free from the trammels of etiquette and the protocol.

But the form of their government is a matter which concerns the Greeks alone. One can be "Monarchist in France and Republican at San Marino," or as an ancient Greek philosopher said: "It does not matter to the Spartans how the Thebans are governed." What does matter to outsiders is whether the foreign policy of the Greek Government is likely to be changed, including its financial policy towards foreign bondholders and its fiscal system generally. On the score of foreign policy, in Greece as in England, there is likely to be no change whatever party be in power. The cardinal points of Mr. Venizelos and Mr. Michalakopoulos's foreign policy -- friendship with Turkey, Jugoslavia and Italy -- have been accepted by all parties, while the Cypriote question, in which last year the Premier took a much more conciliatory line than most Greeks, although it lost him some support at home, has subsided, temporarily at least. Greece is on good terms with all her neighbors, great and small.

Greece has marvelous vitality, and has come triumphantly through so many disasters in past centuries, that she may be expected to issue safely from the present delicate and makeshift arrangement. The national tendency to individualism is the greatest obstacle to collaboration between her public men. To them, on this as on many occasions in his long career, the President of the Republic, a man always to the fore in times of difficulty, sets a noble example.

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  • WILLIAM MILLER, correspondent in Greece of the London Times; author of "The Latins in the Levant," "The Ottoman Empire," and other works
  • More By William Miller