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8 December 2009

On this day in history: Greeks vote to abolish monarch, 1974

On 21st April 1967, a group of right-wing army officers seized power in Greece, fearing increased influence of left-wing politicians following the upcoming elections. King Constantine II initially supported the coup d'etat, but in December that year he led a failed counter-coup, which resulted in his exile. In May 1973 a number of naval officers mutinied against the military regime, providing the leader of military regime, Georgios Papadopoulos, with the pretext to declare a republic with himself as president in June, blaming the king for the revolt. A plebiscite held the next month confirmed his decision; although, many polling irregularities led to accusations that the vote had been rigged.

Papadopoulos' presidency did not last long. A student protest in November gave a hard-line member of the junta, Dimitrios Ioannidis, the opportunity to depose Papadopoulos. The counter-coup resulted in a loss of support for the regime from military officers, as did Ioannidis decisions to support a coup in Cyprus, which resulted in a Turkish invasion of the island in July 1974. Before the end of that month, a meeting of politicians and military officers established a national unity government to run Greece until elections could be held.

The elections, held in November, resulted in a win for the New Democracy party, confirming Konstantinos Karamanlis as Prime Minister. Karamanlis called for a referendum to decide whether Greece should be a republic or a monarchy. Even though he had been a supporter of royal authority in the past, Karamanlis made no attempt to persuade the people to vote for a monarchy.

On 8th December 1974, over four and a half million Greeks voted in the referendum, the majority of whom (69.18%) decided that Greece should be a republic. The result was met with massive celebrations and led to the creation of the Third Hellenic Republic. The former king would remain in exile until the government allowed him to make a short visit in 1981, to attend the funeral of his mother.

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