April 05, 2000 10:53am
Bare-All Candidate Livens Up Dull Elections
(ATHENS) -- In Greece's singularly gray election campaign, candidate Dimosthenes Vergis is a flash of shocking pink.
Whether making speeches dressed in a toga or staring down from posters wearing nothing at all, Vergis is attracting more attention before the April 9 election than some candidates in expensive suits spending a fortune on television ads. ``I will be the surprise of this election,'' the president of the Ecological Union of Greece told Reuters in an interview. ``I'm successful because of my honesty and spontaneity.''
His appeal during a campaign that has so far left most of Greece's eight million voters yawning is unmistakable.
Crowds stop by his campaign kiosk in central Athens and taxi drivers zooming by shout greetings at Vergis, a slim 59-year-old who has seen his following increase steadily since he entered politics in 1986.
``When I first ran for office I got 200 votes. In the Euro-parliament election last year I got 36,000,'' he said.
A self-described journalist, he has a simple political message and a single purpose if he is elected to Greece's 300-seat parliament to fight against real Christmas trees.
``I'd like to ask Mrs. President of the United States, Hillary, to show more sensitivity and not to decorate 22 trees at the White House every year,'' Vergis said.
He admits to using unusual methods to drive his message across, such as spelling his party's name on the bare buttocks of nightclub dancers or having topless models hand out campaign pamphlets on a central Athens avenue.
He appeared proud that such eccentric feats got him in trouble with the inter-party election committee.
``I'll wear my toga to the hearing,'' he said.
Other candidates enlist their wives and children to portray an image of wholesome family morality during the campaign.
Not Vergis. He boasts of his frolickings on the nudist beaches of the island of Mykonos and publishes the pictures to prove it in his party's magazine, more an homage to his sexual prowess than a political manifesto.
``I believe I have children all over the world. I've recognized 19 but I think there must be about 35,'' he said.
He champions few causes besides Christmas trees but he said he could not help taking a political stance when Greece and Turkey came close to war over a deserted Aegean islet in 1996.
Posters all over Athens showed him standing on what was supposed to be the island, naked and in a state of evident arousal, inviting Turkey's female prime minister Tansu Ciller: ``Come and get it.''