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Tsipras, Mitsotakis Clash in Parliament over Constitutional Revision

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New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis during plenary discussions for the revision of the constitution, Nov. 14, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis, file)

ATHENS - We have an obligation towards the constitution to look for wider synthesis and consensus, main opposition party New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during plenary discussions for the revision of the constitution, but added that this is now impossible as Greece is already in pre-election period.

The government is using every weapon to divide the country and harm its political opponents, he continued.

Mitsotakis repeated his proposal that this parliament should approve as many articles as possible for revision, before the next parliament votes on them. In this way, he said, the citizens will also participate in the process through the election that will have happened in the meantime.

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FILE - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis during plenary discussions for the revision of the constitution, Nov. 14, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

THE PEOPLE WANT MORE DEMOCRACY, MORE EQUALITY, MORE SOCIAL PROTECTION

At the forefront of the proposals for radically reforming the Greek state lie the popular demand for more democracy, more equality and more social protection, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday as he addressed lawmakers in Parliament, during the first plenary session to discuss the revision of the constitution.

"We have the capability and the obligation to ponder on the experience of the default, the crisis and its management. To consider their institutional causes," Tsipras said. "We therefore submit a proposal for revision whose main aim is to strengthen parliamentarianism, deepen democracy and participation by the people, protect social rights and abolish privileged institutions that favour the political elite. We are also presenting a proposal, however, that avoids constitutional maximalism and voluntarism," he added.

The fact that Greece has entered the post-programme period lent even greater significance and "an even broader content" to this process, the prime minister noted.

"The completion of the programme period and the start of the constitutional revision coincide by choice, since in addition to the obligation we now also have the capability to think about [the crisis and its causes], to draw from our experience and learn the necessary lessons," he said.

The National Herald

FILE - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis during plenary discussions for the revision of the constitution, Nov. 14, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

According to the prime minister, the condition of the Greek state was not a result of inadequacy but a political choice: "The organisational and administrative chaos was in itself a technology of power. It was a condition for reproducing the relations of dependency between the citizens and political personnel, for creating, maintaining and covering up sources of corruption from the bottom to the top of the administrative mechanism, for tolerating the generalised tax evasion that acted as a catalyst for the dominance of neoliberalism and its acceptance by the middle classes as their own ideology," he said.

One of the benefits of the crisis, according to Tsipras, was to sensitise citizens against a political system that restricted their participation in decision making and established an untransparent regime for crucial decisions.

The government was seeking to establish consensus on the positions and proposals that it considered essential to these aims, Tsipras said, in the belief that there were several members of parliament that shared them and agreed on the need of a new architecture for the state.

Among these he listed the need to strengthen political stability, parliament and governments with a "constructive vote of no confidence", combined with the "internal balancing mechanism of an election system of proportional representation" and to sever the connection between selecting the country's president and an early disbanding of parliament.

On the election of the president, Tsipras said that direct election by the people or election by absolute majority both carried significant risks - in the first case that power at the top would be split and in the second case by removing incentives for consensus - adding that the government's proposal addressed both dangers. He also expressed confidence that consensus will be reached on ways to enhance direct participation by voters in decision-making "not because the people are always right but because they are the source of all power."

"We have to think what system we are led toward if we accept that the people make mistakes and we must hand power to those that do not make mistakes. We must, therefore, learn to trust the people as we must learn to trust democracy," he said.

Among the proposals put forward by the government, Tsipras said, were the protection of water and electricity supply from becoming dominated by private enterprise, emphatic reinforcement of protection for labour and working people, making the social partners exclusively responsible for deciding the basic wage and strengthening state guarantees for universal health care.