The history of civilisation in Greece started around 3000 BC in Crete. During the centuries that followed it developed the ideas that cause it to be regarded as one of the cradles of Western civilisation, including limited democratic institutions in Athens and other cities.
However, after the death of Alexander the Great, the Grecian world declined and was controlled successively by the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, and, from the fourteenth century, by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
In the 1820’s the Greek War of Independence broke out, attracting the support of the likes of Byron, the poet. Britain, France and Russia intervened and Greek independence was recognised in 1830. After a brief republican-style government Greece became a monarchy.
Divisions during the First World War between pro-German and pro-British elements caused instability and defeat by the Turks in a conflict in Asia Minor led to the fall of the Greek monarchy and the establishment of a republic in 1924. When this proved unstable the monarchy was restored in 1935 and a right-wing dictatorship emerged.
After Italy failed to conquer Greece Germany intervened in 1941 and overran the country. Resistance to the invaders was divided between those who supported the monarchy and the Communists. When Germany withdrew her forces this led to civil war as the Communists attempted to take over. Direct intervention by Churchill prevented this and after a referendum the monarchy was restored. However, the civil war dragged on and some of the divisions between right and left in Greek politics can be traced back to this time.
During the 1950s there was economic growth and a series of governments led by Constantine Karamanlis. However, some on the left in Greek politics felt marginalised and by 1967 instability had returned and a group of Greek Colonels seized power. They eventually instituted a republican form of government but after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 the regime collapsed.
Karamanlis and other politicians returned from exile and democratic government was restored. He founded the New Democracy Party while Andrea Papandreou established PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Party. A referendum in 1974 decided against another restoration of the monarchy and in favour of a republic.
In 1981 Greece joined what would become the European Union and adopted the euro in 2002. It is the largest economy in the Balkans.
From 1974 onwards the pendulum was to swing between the centre-left PASOK and the centre-right New Democracy. In 1974 and 1977 it was New Democracy which prevailed and then for two terms it was the turn of PASOK. In June 1989 the election was inconclusive and another election was held in the November but that too was inconclusive. In 1990 New Democracy prevailed, winning 150 seats, one short of a majority so they did a deal with the one Democratic Renewal MP. Subsequently the Supreme Court found a mistake in the calculations for seats and ND was awarded 152 seats.
The ND reign was to be short lived and in 1993 PASOK under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou won the election. Papandreou retired on 16th January 1996 due to ill health and died on 23rd June the same year. His place was taken by Costas Simitis who remained as Prime Minister until PASOK was defeated in the 2004 general election.
New Democracy returned to office in 2004 and also won the 2007 election. The 2007 and 2009 general elections were held under a new electoral law giving the winning party a majority premium of 40 seats, this was increased to fifty seats in 2012. It did New Democracy little good because in 2009 they were left with just 91 seats whilst PASOK took 160 seats. But by now the Greek economy was in serious trouble and there was talk that Greece might default on its debt.
Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou tried everything to stave off the economic problems including taking a $144 billion loan from the EU and IMF. But in return Greece would have to cut back spending drastically. There were protests and strikes and in May 2012 the country faced another general election which was inconclusive. PASOK remained the largest party but was unable to govern. Papandreou was forced to resign and a coalition government made up of ND, PASOK and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) was headed up by Lucas Papademos, an economist and former vice-president of the European Central Bank. More loans were needed and the crisis grew deeper.
A second general election was held in June 2012 and New Democracy (ND) emerged as the largest party but was obliged to form a coalition government with PASOK, now reduced to just 33 seats, and the Democratic Left (DIMAR). A coalition of left-wing parties formed back in 2004 and called the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) came second in the 2012 election with 71 seats having fought an anti-austerity campaign.
The new government, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of ND entered into a period of deep austerity carrying out the instructions of the so called Troika, who by this time had lent even more money to Greece. The government became deeply unpopular and strikes and protests continued. Slowly the economy was starting to turn around but the majority of the government was slipping away due to defections and in January 2015 a fresh general election was held.
The Greek people decided to vote to end the austerity measures and voted in Syriza by giving them 149 seats. Alexis Tsipras became the new Prime Minister and announced that Greece would no longer be dictated to by the Troika. Tsipras relaxed the austerity measures and appointed a controversial Finance Minister who immediately clashed with EU Finance Ministers and the IMF. The path was set for a confrontation that would lead Greece into deeper economic problems.
The President is elected by parliament for a five year term.
The Greek Parliament has 300 members, is unicameral, and is elected every four years. The President can dissolve Parliament earlier if advised so to do by the Cabinet and an election can be held if the Government loses a vote of confidence in Parliament.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Greece at 69th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 44 (where 100 is least corrupt).