Maria Damanaki (Greek: Μαρία Δαμανάκη) is a Greek politician, former president of the Synaspismos party of the radical left and currently a state member of the Hellenic Parliament within the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).
She was born in Agios Nikolaos, Crete, in 1952. She studied chemical engineering in the National Technical University of Athens. As a student, she became a member of the Communist Youth of Greece (Greek: Κομμουνιστική Νεολαία Ελλαδας, KNE), the youth section of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). She became actively involved in the antidictatorial struggle and took part in the Athens Polytechnic uprising. She was the voice of the famous "Εδώ Πολυτεχνείο" ("This is the Polytechnic") radio broadcast from within the uprising, calling the Greek citizens to support. Damanaki was arrested and tortured by the regime.
From 1977 to 1993 she was constantly elected member of the Hellenic Parliament, first with the Communist Party and then with Synaspismos, the new party she became president of in the 1989. This made Maria Damanaki the first woman to become president of a party in Greece.
In the 1993 Hellenic Parliament election, the failure of Synaspismos to pass the 3% threshold in order to enter in the parliament was a near disaster for the party, and Damanaki was personally held responsible. She resigned from president and was succeeded by the lawyer Nikos Konstantopoulos. Under the leadership of Konstantopoulos, Synaspismos managed to re-enter the parliament in 1996.
She was a candidate mayor of Athens twice, in 1994, supported by Synaspismos, and in 1998, supported by both Synaspismos and PASOK. She came second in 1998, defeated by Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was supported by the conservative party of New Democracy.
Damanaki found herself disagreeing with many policies of Synaspismos with Konstantopoulos as president, notably the fact that the mainstream of the party and Konstantopoulos himself disfavoured the possibility of cooperation with PASOK, of which she was an ardent advocate. She was publicly expressing her annoyance against her own party's policies, creating a confusion to the Greek public over Synaspismos' political profile.
In 2003, a few months before the election, she resigned from Synaspismos and gave up her seat in the parliament. When Giorgos Papandreou succeeded Costas Simitis in the leadership of PASOK, she decided to join with him, despite the fact that after her departure from Synaspismos she had denied any chance of her joining PASOK.
She was elected state MP in the same year's election, this time with PASOK. She integrated within PASOK's hierarchy quite successfully, undertaking many critical tasks of the opposition and parliamentary work. Currently, Maria Damanaki is the coordinator of education and culture issues of PASOK. However, her acceptance by PASOK's supporter base is a matter of question, with low scores in popularity polls targeting PASOK's voters and many people suggesting that she would not be elected if she had to be personally voted.¹
¹ According the Greek Constitution and the election law (as of 2003), the number of state MPs of each party is determined by its overall countrywide percentage, and the state MPs are chosen from an ordered list predefined by the party itself, not the voters. Unlike state MPs, locally-elected MPs are subject to the voters' preferences.