Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described a plan submitted by main opposition SYRIZA party on the vote of the diaspora in general elections as a “deeply offensive” proposal that treats Greeks living in other countries as “second class citizens”.
A long-time supporter of voting rights for Greeks abroad, his views may have been shaped by his formative years spent in Paris where his family moved on the year of his birth and lived from 1968 through to 1974. Young Kyriakos was just six years old when he returned to Athens, and then left again in 1986 for studies in Harvard and Stanford University. He continued to live in the United States until 1995 when he moved to London for two years to work for McKinsey & Company.
He met his Athenian-born wife, Mareva Grabowski, at Harvard, and she also understands the diaspora as the daughter of a Polish immigrant who married a Greek woman.
There is no denying that Mr Mitsotakis’ own experiences and life choices add a sense of genuineness to his calls for expat voting rights. Having experienced what it means to be an expat both in his early years and young adult life, he is aware how such life experiences can help make you a more forward-looking out-of-the-box thinker.
He also knows first hand what it means to live abroad but still feel a deep connection with your homeland and also understands the importance that the diaspora can play in Greece’s recovery.
Meeting with Greek-Americans in the Greek district of Astoria, the centre-right Greek leader told Greek New Yorkers that “we’re working so that, after long last, you can acquire the right to vote from your place of residence; to legislate the institution of voting by mail, and based on current election rolls (of registered voters).”
He said that the main opposition’s suggestion that Greeks abroad not count expatriates’ votes in the general vote, but only for the election of three deputies, is a “fraud” – a watered-down version of what democracy should be.
Cynics argue that Mr Mitsotakis’ real motivation in giving Greeks abroad the right to vote is the hope that Greeks from Australia, the United States, South Africa and Canada would be more conservative than those caught in the turbulence of life in Greece. An analysis of voting trends, however, shows this not to be the case. In the European elections, Greeks abroad voted in a similar way to those living in Greece. Other countries, such as neighbouring Turkey, first granted its citizens the right to vote from overseas in the 2014 presidential elections. From 2014-2018, the results showed a lower turnout than citizens living in the country but also a trend for voters abroad to vote in the same direction as domestic voters.
Others argue that Greeks abroad would not be able to make an accurate decision, not having personally stuck it out through the turmoils of the debt crisis and harsh realities of daily life in post-bailout Greece.
However, an estimated 427,000 Greeks have left the country in the past decade, according to figures from the Bank of Greece, and most of them are fully aware of what is going on in the country they left behind. Even older members of the diaspora, especially those with commercial interests and assets in Greece, are aware of the situation and can view the issues more clearly and objectively as outsiders. As citizens, they feel they should have a say.
Ultimately, the debate is about the citizens rights, and much of the discussion has focused on the fabric of democracy in modern society and the meaning of what it means to be Greek.