Greek Political Parties and the Disenfranchisement of the Diaspora

Αssociated press

FILE - Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, speaks with Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Athens, on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The issue of voting rights from Greek citizens residing abroad has once again come to the forefront, thanks to laudable efforts by the current Greek Government to end the longstanding injustice that has denied a significant portion of the Greek population their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. Despite general consensus among Greek political parties and constitutional scholars that this right is foreseen for duly registered Hellenes of the Diaspora, this matter has gone unresolved for decades largely because of partisanship and legislative peculiarities.

Ten years ago, a similar bill failed to gather the necessary Parliamentary supermajority of 200 votes, thwarted by then main opposition leader George Papandreou, a Greek of the Diaspora himself, after he insisted that absentee ballots count only toward parliamentary constituencies that would be set aside exclusively for Diaspora representatives. Today, Alexis Tsipras and the main opposition SYRIZA party are taking much the same stance and opposing the Government’s plan to apply absentee ballots to the nationwide totals accrued by each party. In a twist of fate, assuming the current administration wins the support of all the parties in Parliament with the exception of SYRIZA and the Greek Communist Party (both of which opposed a similar bill in 2009), they would be just 1 vote shy of the necessary 200 votes required to pass the bill.

Well over 100 nations, including the overwhelming majority of EU and other European nations currently implement provisions for absentee voting. Greece has yet to implement existing constitutional provisions guaranteeing this right, joining the ranks of many former third world nations. This dubious distinction will likely continue into the foreseeable future due to the near impossibility of securing the required two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Arguments against a simple absentee ballot process to be applied to the overall party totals due to the absence of a separate constituency representing the Diaspora are merely blatant attempts at voter exclusion with a twist of faux democracy to mislead public opinion. If parties aren’t willing to agree on the simplest application of absentee ballots to at least get the ball rolling, how could they possibly ever agree on setting up separate parliamentary constituencies?

Moreover, the danger with this approach is that it would exclude absentee ballots from counting toward the overall national majority, create a two-tier voting system where Diaspora Greeks are second-class citizens, and dilute the mandate of the elected government. It is also rather ironic, considering that some of the parties advocating for this type of solution have routinely called for widespread naturalizations for the growing migrant and refugee populations in Greece, while denying the right of existing citizens to exercise their constitutionally foreseen voting rights.

Much of this opposition likely stems from the ideological ankylosis plaguing Greek political parties and their stereotyping of many Greek expats as conservatives, which they interpret as threatening to upset the balance of the electoral body. This decades-old misguided argument reveals a deep disconnect between Greek politicians and the contemporary Diaspora. For example, Greek-Americans are active in both the liberal and conservative end of U.S. politics, and sometimes switch allegiances depending on the candidate. Recently, there have been socialist or left-wing governments in Greece that have tabbed Greek-Americans as cabinet ministers. Even in the best-case scenario, if these parties’ misgivings aren’t rooted in ignorance and bias, at the very least, they represent a clear attempt at election rigging by attempting to limit the vote share of perceived electoral opponents – a contemporary form of disenfranchisement.

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of voting rights impact on the Greek Diaspora – but none of them have anything to do with the muck being presented by Hellenic legislators opposing this bill. Here in the U.S., Greek-Americans’ failure to self-organize and form contemporary representative bodies to meet the growing challenges facing the Diaspora is concerning. After the disintegration of the government-sponsored World Council of Hellenes (SAE) almost a decade ago, save for the Church, there is no all-encompassing representative body to unite the different Diaspora communities. The Archdiocese’s organizational model is also badly outdated, pre-dating WWII, with no real reforms having been made to handle modern issues like the education crisis, financial and demographic challenges, etc.

The ongoing unwillingness of some Greek parties to support the implementation of election provisions for Hellenes of the Diaspora would be comical, if it wasn’t so tragic. Electoral laws can be passed by simple majority. It only takes 180 votes to elect the President of the Republic (and that’s expected to drop even lower). Worse yet, all the previous government needed to sell out Macedonia and pass the Prespes Deal was 151 votes! Yet somehow, implementing voting rights expressly foreseen by Constitution requires 200 votes…

If the current bill is defeated, the entire Diaspora needs to name and shame the perpetrators of this disenfranchisement.


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