Greece's Socialists beat the governing conservatives in a landslide election on Sunday, as voters angered by scandals and an ailing economy showed their displeasure by getting rid of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis halfway through his second term.
Humbled by his New Democracy party's worst electoral performance ever, Karamanlis, 53, resigned as its leader and said a new chief is needed for the party, which was founded by his late uncle Constantine Karamanlis 35 years ago.
"I take full responsibility for the result and I am starting the procedure for the election of a new President of New Democracy. For this after a month we will have a party congress. It is clear that in this congress I will not be a candidate," Karamanlis said at a press conference after the first results were announced.
George Papandreou, 57, now follows in the footsteps of his father, Andreas Papandreou, who founded his Panhellenic Socialist Movement party, or PASOK, and of his grandfather and namesake George Papandreou, both of whom served several terms as prime ministers.
"I know very well the great potential of this country. Potential being drowned by corruption, favouritism, lawlessness and waste. Potential that we will set free. I promise that I will do whatever is possible so that all Greeks will believe again that we can succeed, when we are united," Papandreou said.
Results from 82.07 percent of votes counted showed PASOK winning with 43.92 percent, compared to 34.15 percent for New Democracy. Turnout was at 70.24 percent.
Voting is compulsory in Greece, although penalties for failing to vote are no longer enforced. For the first time in over 40 years thourh, the percentage of people who did not vote was over 30 percent.
The Greek Communist Party, far right-wing LAOS and the small Left Coalition are expected to retain their representation in Parliament, while the Ecologist-Greens were hovering on the fringe of the three percent threshold for entry.
The result gives PASOK a comfortable majority of about 159 seats in the 300-member parliament, bringing the party back to power after five years of conservative governance.
Papandreou will now have to deal with an ailing economy that is expected to contract in 2009 after years of strong growth, while the budget deficit will probably exceed six percent of economic output.
In contrast to Karamanlis, who advocated an austerity program of freezing state salaries, pensions and hiring, Papandreou has promised to inject up to three billion Euros (4.4 billion dollars) to jump-start the economy.
Karamanlis stormed to power in 2004 to become the youngest prime minister in modern Greek history after more than a decade of socialist rule.
He was re-elected in 2007, but quickly saw his popularity eroded by several financial scandals, including a land-swap deal with a Greek Orthodox monastery that cost the state more than 100 million euros (145 million dollars) and forced two of Karamanlis' close aides to resign.
Authorities' failure to contain widespread riots sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens on the 6th of December 2008 also undermined the conservatives' position, which the global financial crisis finished off.
Many conservative voters were angered by rising crime and the riots, when anarchists rampaged through Greek cities, smashing shops and banks with little police intervention.
Karamanlis telephoned Papandreou to congratulate him for his victory, as well as various world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.