The Greek Republic Referendum of 1974 represented an essential piece of modern Greek history. It was the country’s first since 1974 when nearly 70 per cent of Greece’s citizens voted to uphold the republic that was put into place following the abolishment of the monarchy in 1973.
While many Greeks believe the initial ’73 vote was rigged, the 1974 referendum firmly established Greece’s Third Hellenic Republic.
End of the Greek Monarchy
In 1967, Greece was in turmoil. The country’s relationships with Turkey and Syria were strained, and Greek citizens lost faith in the monarchy.
In particular, they believed that Queen Frederica, mother of King Constantine II and an opponent of democratic government, was too involved in political decisions. Led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, a military junta was staged in early 1967.
Constantine II was ousted and forced into exile, fleeing to London with his family, and Greece was under a dictatorship for seven years. Although then-Prime Minister George Papandreou Sr. had been democratically elected, Papadopoulos named himself president of the Greek Republic, by all accounts, without the consent of the citizens of Greece.
Papadopoulos ordered the arrest of Papandreou in April 1967, and the former Prime Minister was still under house arrest at the time of his death in November 1968. On June 1, 1973, Papadopoulos’ regime formally abolished the monarchy, which propelled Greece into a new era.
The Will of the People
In mid-1974, Papadopoulos’ dictatorship was overthrown, and Konstantinos Karamanlis was named interim Prime Minister. On July 24, a referendum was held, and Greece officially became a democratic republic.
The July 24 plebiscite was further confirmed by the Greek Republic Referendum, held on December 8, 1974. After Karamanlis emerged victorious in the parliamentary elections of November 1974, he called for a referendum, hoping to end the question of a possible return to a constitutional monarchy. Voting commenced on December 8, 1974, with the Prime Minister imploring his citizens to vote “according to their conscience.”
Constantine campaigned outside the country to re-establish the monarchy, pledging his support to the new government and Karamanlis and apologizing for his past errors.
With 92 per cent of the returns counted, the republic won 2,899,282 votes or 68.8 per cent, and the monarchy won 1,318,827 votes or 31.2 per cent. About 25 per cent of those eligible did not vote.
King Constantine, though disappointed in the verdict, stood by his countrymen. In a 2002 interview with Time magazine, he stated, “If the Greek people decide that they want a republic, they are entitled to have that and should be left in peace to enjoy it.”
He would remain exiled in London until 1981, and Greece’s pre-junta constitutional monarchy was never restored.
The Greek Republic Referendum of 1974 marked the start of what is now referred to as the Third Hellenic Republic. During his 1974 campaign, Karamanlis ran under the platform of his newly established conservative New Democracy party and was re-elected in 1977. Many privately owned institutions became nationalised under the New Democracy government, including transportation and banking, and a new Greek Constitution was adopted in 1975.