After decades of lingering, the draft bill aimed at granting voting rights to Greeks from their place of residence edged a little closer as changes to the electoral system were debated by Greek lawmakers on Thursday.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had vowed to finally facilitate voting rights after decades of broken promises, and sources state that he is likely to secure a broad consensus at next week’s vote.
Greek Interior Minister Takis Theodorikakos outlined the legal framework that would allow for Greeks abroad to vote from their place of residence, according to the revision of article 54 of the constitution. He expressed the hope that the law would be passed when it goes to vote on Monday 25 November and outlined all that was done to facilitate this.
“The position of ND on the matter was, and remains, clear,” he said. “For us, the voting of all Greeks abroad, who are registered on the electoral rolls, needed to be facilitated from their place of residence via a postal vote. But to be frank, though that was our position, we would not have gathered the 200 votes required by the Constitution for the law to be passed taking into account the current parliamentary positions. The mandate I received from the Prime Minister – one which I served with enthusiasm – was to create as broad convergences as possible so as to give the opportunity to as many Greeks abroad as possible to vote from their place of residence.”
Parties reached a convergence on 22 October, however Mr Theodorikakos stressed that this was a compromise solution but “an important first step.”
SYRIZA called for amendments to be made to article 54 of the Constitution in regards to the diaspora voting rights and, though the party has agreed to the bill in principle, it is still unknown how the party will vote.
To pass, the current bill requires 200 votes, with the ND party controlling 158 votes. In order to get the numbers, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had one on one meetings with party leaders but also set up three different inter-party committee meetings with representatives of the six parties in Parliament.
The current bill allows for the following:
- Greeks abroad would be able to vote in person at electoral centres at embassies and consulates as well as other suitable areas provided there are 40 voters that show up to cast their ballots;
- the vote of each Greek living abroad would be equal to those of Greeks living in the country, and count towards the final result;
- voters abroad will choose from the “territory” ballot of the party they wish to vote for, and political parties can choose Greeks of the diaspora to stand as candidates on ballot places, while the number of lawmakers to be elected via the “territory ballot” will increase from 12 to 15;
- Greeks eligible to vote are those who have lived abroad for the last 35 years but have spent tow years in Greece and can prove it; and they need to have submitted a tax statement (E1, E2, E3 or E9) in the current or previous year.
To vote, Greeks abroad will also need a tax registration number (AFM).
Greek Australian stakeholders that had campaigned for the voting rights of Greeks abroad told Neos Kosmos that they were disappointed that there would not be a postal vote, something particularly disheartening for Australia bearing in mind the distances that would make it hard for Greeks abroad to have access to voting centres.
In a letter to Mr Mitsotakis, Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis congratulated the government and political parties for coming to an agreement that allows Greeks to vote from their place of residence but also pointed to the obstacles placed in the way of people wishing to exercise their constitutional right.
Specifically, the letter points out that the majority of Greek Australians eligible to vote in Greek elections are excluded from doing so as a result of the “obstacles” placed in their way, and creates two classes of Greek citizens because:
- the bill does not allow for a postal vote, obliging Greeks abroad to travel great distances in order to cast their ballots at embassies, consulates or elsewhere. “We, as diasporans, propose the comprehensive establishment of a postal vote for Greek citizens within and out of Greece,” Mr Papastergiadis suggests;
- it creates contradictions as “on the one hand, Greece forces and trusts Greeks abroad to serve as soldiers and protect their country” but on the other hand limits , to the point of preventing, their right to vote because they have not lived two consecutive years in Greece.
Mr Papastergiadis questions the 35-year limitations and requirement for an AFM and active economic tax relationship with Greece when we are talking about people registered on the electoral votes with voting rights within Greece in the first place.
He points to the draft bill’s weaknesses. “In Melbourne, for instance, the distances are vast, as the city from one side to another stretches to more than 120 kilometres,” he said.
“The adoption of the postal vote for all Greek citizens or the creation of a special platform that would allow Greeks abroad to vote should be examined as a priority,” he said, especially in light of the fact that “Greeks abroad, particularly we in Australia are fighting for Greece’s national matters, but also for its economic development and we are trying to promote the interests of Greece to governments of the countries where we are living.”
Other Antipodean groups such as SAE Oceania – World Council for Hellenes Abroad expressed their dissatisfaction with the draft bill. “In essence the draft bill divides the diaspora. Some have the ability to vote and others don’t,” said the group.