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Politics

Developments in Voting Rights for Greeks Living Abroad

April 15, 2021
By Vasilis Koutsilas

ATHENS – SYRIZA Member of Parliament, Theodora Tzakri, responsible for the issues of the Hellenes Abroad, who was recently interviewed in The National Herald weekend issue April 10, was the catalyst for rapid developments in the issue of votes for Hellenes living abroad.

The characterizations "unfair" and "derogatory" that she attributed to the known unacceptable restrictions (that the diaspora Greeks have lived two of the last 35 years in Greece and have submitted a tax return in Greece) as well as her statement that "when SYRIZA becomes government again it will abolish them” led the government and specifically the Minister of Interior Makis Voridis to prepare in record time a draft law for their removal (which was to be submitted April 12).

However, SYRIZA in the first phase and as a reaction to the government's move to bring a bill to lift the restrictions showed that it does not agree and with a joint statement MPs Giorgos Katrougalos, Theodora Tzakri and Kostas Zachariadis spoke of "fireworks by the Interior Minister for the diaspora vote as he tries to distort the reality and to deceive the Greeks.” The main opposition party tabled its own amendment on the diaspora vote.

The revelation about the intentions of the government was initially made the morning of April 12 by the Minister of Interior, Makis Voridis, speaking on a TV show, while a little while later a relevant announcement was made by the government representative, Aristotelia Peloni. The latter even made a nominal reference to The National Herald during the briefing of the political editors.

"Yes" from KINAL

KINAL is in favor of Voridis' regulation for the lifting of restrictions on the voting of Hellenes living abroad.

“Before the law was passed – and we continue to support it -, that the real representation of Greeks abroad who are registered in the national register, is ensured only by removing the restrictions. Restrictions that are the product of phobic perceptions of a large portion of the Greek political system towards our compatriots living abroad. It is time for the draft bill to restore their right ,” said Charilaou Trikoupi in her announcement.

Voridis: SYRIZA is afraid of the vote for Greeks abroad

Later on April 12, moreover, the Minister of Interior stigmatized the joint statement made by the SYRIZA MPs, Giorgos Katrougalos, Theodora Tzakri and Kostas Zachariadis.

"It is impressive how SYRIZA changes its view every day on the serious issue of the vote for Greeks abroad by playing games of impressions with them," said Interior Minister Makis Voridis. "Coming in complete opposition to its own Law Drafting Committee, even to the Draft Law submitted on September 23, 2019, today he proposes 4 seats geographically distributed and in fact in a single list (!)," said Voridis. “In other words, their vote should not have the same weight as the rest and should not count in the nationwide percentage. Obviously, he considers the diaspora Greek citizens second class and unworthy to be able to choose the party of their choice. Maybe tomorrow he will propose something else, something even more unconstitutional. Even more impressive is that the signatory of SYRIZA's announcement, MP Ms. Tzakri, disagrees with the competent head of SYRIZA Ms. Tzakri as she expressed in The National Herald. We suggest to the official opposition to finally get serious and vote in favor of the draft law of the Ministry of Interior, as a minimum example of responsibility.

“It is now obvious that there is one party that is afraid of the vote for voters living outside Greece: SYRIZA. The rest will be discussed in Parliament where they will be invited to take a stand before the Greeks living abroad.”

Voridis, moreover, in his speech in Parliament, argued that ND is in favor of the smooth and unrestricted participation of Greeks living abroad in the electoral process as long as they are registered in the electoral rolls and that the law of 2019 was the result of political processes in order to achieve the Constitutional Consensus. “Ms. Tzakri told us in an interview that the restrictions imposed are unfair and derogatory. We agree and that is why we bring the bill as with SYRIZA we have the majority. But now SYRIZA comes and what does it tell us? It tells us that the restrictions are unfair in the SYRIZA proposal and the same restrictions are fair in the government proposal. Seriously? Who hears this? Understand the magnitude of your hypocrisy. So you say no. Say it clearly and do not fish in murky waters. The position of the KKE is clear. We can have a discussion. What can we refute with you? You have no position.”

The controversial part of Ms. Tzakri's interview with TNH which provoked the developments in the voting issue, is the following:

TNH: The restrictions that have been put to the vote of the residents abroad are considered an injustice by a large portion of the Greeks living abroad. Is there a way to consent to their removal?

Theodora Tzakri: What do you mean? We are the ones who asked all the Greeks of the Diaspora to vote. Not only will we fight to lift the restrictions, but we will remove them as soon as we return to governing the country. They are unjust. Degrading. I have no words to describe them. The Greeks of the Diaspora must realize that the Mitsotakis government does not represent the principles of the Center-Right, but the narrow interest of a closed economic "elite" that dissolves, out of greed, Greek society.

Yes to Lifting the Restrictions

Movement for Change President Fofi Gennimata is clearly in favor of lifting the restrictions on the voting of Greeks abroad, she told TNH. In fact, she goes one step further and emphasizes that the voting by mail option should be added – with the necessary guarantees of transparency – especially to those who do not have easy access to embassies or consulates of Greece.

"No restrictions on diaspora voting. This was our position a year ago when the debate opened and we are not going to accept games on the backs of Greeks living abroad,” says Ms. Gennimata, whose party has 22 Members of Parliament.

It should be noted that in order to remove the restrictions on the voting of Greeks abroad with the bill submitted to the Parliament on April 12, the government requires an increased majority of 200 seats, which practically means that the votes of KINAL MPs also play an important role.

Ms. Gennimata, however, does not fail to criticize the government's stance, saying that her initiative "to revise the original law is not her democratic sensitivity, but the fact that there is no response from Greeks Abroad who find it difficult to register on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ online platform, although it has been in operation for several weeks. The government's anxiety lest the whole process end in a fiasco, forces it to change course.”

Gennimata then asked "who is afraid of the Greeks Abroad and why?" making an indirect but clear reference to those who oppose the lifting of restrictions on their voting.

"It's our people living abroad, this case must finally be resolved. Those who are registered to vote have full rights. I do not understand the meaning of the logic of restrictions,” she said and as mentioned above, she went one step further, pointing out the need to introduce the mail-in vote (something that is not provided by the current legislation).

"In addition, as we have proposed, the possibility of vote by mail – with the necessary guarantees of transparency – should be given, especially to those who do not have easy access to embassies or consulates of Greece. Unfortunately, with the games being played between New Democracy and SYRIZA, there is a risk of losing this opportunity for Greeks Abroad. Because there will not be the 200 votes required by the Constitution. Such a development would be particularly disappointing.”

Where do the parties stand?

So far, the government's draft law to lift restrictions on expatriate voting has won the support of the Movement for Change and the Greek Solution. The oxymoron is that SYRIZA does not seem to consent to their removal and moves (based on the amendment submitted) in a completely different direction.

New Democracy, Movement for Change and Greek Solution have a total of 190 MPs and this means that even if the MeRA25 of Yanis Varoufakis (9 MPs) is in favor, the positive vote of SYRIZA or the KKE will be required.

For the time being, the distance that separates the government proposal from those of the KKE and the MeRA25 is distinct but not insurmountable. MeRA25, which was not appointed to the relevant committee in Parliament, in a statement pointed out that it is not going to vote on provisions that create dual electoral lists, but also do not grant equal rights to vote and to be elected to every Greek citizen with voting rights, regardless of where he or she lives.

Mr. Varoufakis' party had not voted for the bill in 2019, which set both the main restrictions on the physical presence of diaspora Greeks over a period of 2 years in the last 35 years and the filing a tax return in the current or previous year.

Bill makes it easier for Greeks abroad to be able to vote

The discussion of a bill aiming to remove restrictions that prevent voting by Greeks abroad starts on Thursday in the competent committee of Parliament, Deputy Foreign Minister Costas Vlasis said in an interview with public broadcaster ERT on Thursday.

"With the proposed regulation, we do not provide the right to vote and we do not expand the electoral base. We facilitate those Greeks who, when they come to our country, can vote in the elections anyway," he stressed.

"We consider it self-evident [that we should] make it easier for Greeks abroad to be able to vote in their country of residence," Vlasis said, adding: "Let's finally look these people in the eye. We cannot treat them as second-class citizens."

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