When Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last met with Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis to discuss the postal vote for the a few months ago, he seemed genuine in wishing to galvanise the interests of Greeks abroad and could see the benefits of engaging with them via the offer of voting system. He said, “Leave it in my hands, Bill. I’ll try to achieve this by the end of the year.”
To achieve his pledge he needed the support of other parties, as the conservative New Democracy government only has 158 votes in the 300-member Parliament that requires 200 votes for a bill to be passed.
The inter-party consensus necessary for Greeks abroad to get voting rights was achieved on Tuesday so that the draft bill could move for discussion in Greek Parliament on Thursday.
Interior Affairs Minister Takis Theodorikakos admitted that the deal had weaknesses when he addressed the plenary. “In all honesty, I would like to say that the deal is a product of compromises, involving all political parties, as the adoption of the bill requires an increased majority of 200 votes,” he said, pointing to “common ground” so that expatriates can vote in their place of residence, a “decades-long demand that has yet to be met, with thousands of Greeks abroad unable to exercise their right to vote.”
GCM President Bill Papastergiadis believes it is a “positive development” that Greek expatriates will be afforded their democratic right to participate in elections, however he says, “There are a number of deficiencies in the current proposal that I think are discriminatory and unfair.”
Antonis Diamantaris, the Deputy Minister for Greek expatriates, expressed his disappointment in an interview with the Greek Program of SBS, especially in regards to the “cutter” – which would not allow voting rights to those who have not lived in Greece for more than 35 years unless they can prove that they visited the country for two years as a student, conscript or for work.
“I consider this a big mistake, if not a shame,” Mr Diamantaris said.
“I hope that by the time we reach the end of our dialogue, the parties promoting such irrational regulations will understand that Greeks do not stop being Greeks after 35 or 40 or 10 or 20 years. A Greek is a Greek for all his life.”
Mr Papastergiadis is also concerned about the creation of “different classes of citizens” because one of the criteria for being able to vote is that you need to have resided in Greece for two consecutive years over a period of 30. “I don’t understand why they would include criteria like that,” Mr Papastergiadis said. “You either are a citizen or you aren’t. You either are on the electoral role or you aren’t. Why is it relevant to add additional criteria of having lived in the country for two consecutive years? It’s nonsensical because many of us travel for months at a time, or two months, or five months.”
No postal vote
Limiting the voting to consulates in an era where technology has made electronic voting so readily available is “dumbfounding”, said Mr Papastergiadis.
In countries like the United States and Australia, the distance between citizens and their embassies and consulates could extend beyond 1000km, whereas in Melbourne alone the distances within the city could be more than 100km. “If you’re going to ask someone to participate in an election and they have to drive over 70km to a consulate, you have to be concerned about this,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
Another issue that arises is whether the Greek embassies and consulates themselves will have the capacity to administer elections given the current understaffing of consulates globally.
Mr Papastergiadis hopes however that once the door is opened to the possibility of allowing Greeks to vote in their country, the weaknesses in the current proposal will systematically be addressed. Over the next few days, Greek party leaders will receive a letter urging them to include provisions that would make the bill for diaspora voting rights more than just a meaningless gesture and on a par with the rights citizens have in the rest of the developed world.
“Once people dispel the fear of Greeks abroad controlling the fate of Greece, then perhaps they’ll open the system up to be fairer and more democratic,” he said, adding that it opens the door to the start of engagement.