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Politics

Squeezed New Democracy Will Lift Diaspora Voting Rights Restrictions

ATHENS – After supporting strict limitations on voting rights for Greeks abroad, the New Democracy government will move to end them to allow more people to take part in elections while living outside the country.

The government will introduce an amendment abolishing diaspora Greeks’ voting restrictions, Interior Minister Makis Voridis said, after Theodora Tzakri from the major opposition SYRIZA – which also wanted limits – said that those in the Diaspora had “unfair and devaluing limitations,” said in an interview with Ethnikos Kirix.

After she said her party would reverse itself in not wanting broader voting rights if it returned to power, New Democracy made a pre-emptive move on its own but no details were given on how many more people could vote.

The government had given Greek citizens living abroad the right to vote in the next national election but only those who could show they lived in the country for two of the previous 35 years, shutting out the majority.

That had to be proved by showing evidence such as a national service certificate, proof of social security contributions and degrees from Greek universities as the Constitution bars civil service employment for those educated outside the country.

The newspaper earlier said that the government was preparing an online registry for Greeks living abroad to strengthen Diaspora ties with the homeland as well as enhance public diplomacy and nation branding.

The about-face for New Democracy happened fast as a law was passed in February that would let only about 300,000 Greeks abroad to vote, and only for  at-large Members of Parliament, which is 15 out of 300 in the body.

They would be excluded from picking their choice for Prime Minister and other offices, making them essentially irrelevant.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, needing backing from rival parties to get at least 200 votes in the 300-member body – the Conservatives have 158 seats – agreed to measures cutting out a large part of the Diaspora from voting, but touted it as a victory.

Mitsotakis had described the bill as “truly historic because it responds to a long-standing demand and a present need, opening the way for a better tomorrow for all Greeks,” after making concessions

The law was aimed especially at voting rights for Greeks who fled the country after 2010 when a near-decade-long economic and austerity crisis left them without work, most saying they didn’t plan to come back permanently.

If SYRIZA comes on board, the government will have enough votes to change its own law and expand the voting rights that those in the Diaspora, Greeks who left to live elsewhere, have long sought.

A key factor was establishing the number of voters who register on the online platform, and their places of residence, as they will form the “electoral body of Greek citizens abroad,” the paper said.

Voting will be conducted in person at polling stations around the world set up and supervised by the Greek Interior Ministry. For the establishment of a polling station in a region, the legislation specifies, there must be at least 40 registered voters.

The final number of registered voters will, therefore, determine the number of polling stations required and their locations. Whomever registers an intent to vote from their place of residence will forfeit their right to vote in Greece.

"With the legislative initiative of the government, for the first time, Greek voters living abroad have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote from their place of residence," government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said on Monday during a press briefing.

Peloni called on main opposition SYRIZA party to vote for the bill.

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