In July 2019 I met with Prime Minister Mitsotakis and discussed the issue of postal vote from Diaspora. The Prime Minister assured me that he would achieve an outcome for voting for Greeks abroad by the end of the year. He kept his word.
Unfortunately, to achieve his pledge, he needed the support of other parties as parliament requires 200 votes for the bill to be passed. The inter-party consensus was achieved and the bill was passed in October 2019.
I also had a number of discussions with Interior Affairs’ Minister Theodorikakos who admitted to me that the deal had many weaknesses in that it is the product of compromises involving all political parties. He told me that common ground was needed to allow Greeks abroad to vote in their place of residence.
I believe this is a positive development that Greek expatriates are afforded their democratic right to participate in elections.
Problems with the Current Law
However I believe there a number of deficiencies in the current proposal that are discriminatory and unfair.
It does not allow voting rights to those who have not lived in Greece for more than 35 years unless they can prove that they visited Greece for two years as a student, conscript or for work.
• My point is that Greeks do not stop becoming Greeks after 35 or 40 years or 10 or 20 years. A Greek is a Greek for all his life.
It leads to the creation of different classes of citizen.
• You are either a citizen or you are not. You are either on the electoral roll or you are not. I do not understand why the additional criteria of living in a country for two consecutive years has been inserted. Most of us travel at periods of one to two months per annum.
Another problem is limiting the vote to consulates in an area where technology has made electronic voting so easy.
• This is dumbfounding. In countries like the United States and Australia, the distance between citizens and their embassies can extend beyond 1,000 kilometres whereas in Melbourne the distances within the city exceed 100 kilometres. It would be difficult to convince an elderly person to drive 70 kilometres to a consulate to exercise this right to vote.
Another problem is whether the Greek embassies and consulates will have the capacity to administer elections given the current understaffing of consulates globally.
Hopefully, over the next few years, there will be changes to these provisions so as the bill for the diaspora voting rights is more than a gesture but is on par with the rights citizens have in the rest of the developed world.
Why the Vote is Important
We need to dispel the fear that Greeks abroad will control the fate of Greece. Hopefully that will then open the system up to be more fair and democratic. That will then open the door for positive engagement between the Diaspora and the Greek state.
One of the factors for the need for this vote is the fact that 500,000 Greeks have left Greece in the past decade according to statistics of the central Bank of Greece. These newly departed Greeks are just part of a large group of more established diasporans that are impacted by the country’s legislation due to assets in Greece, but are banned from participating in crucial decisions concerning Greece’s future.
People should not be punished for escaping a stagnating economy. All of these people have assets, family and a deep connection to Greece. They should be allowed to vote if they choose to do so. Practically every western country in the world allows its citizens to vote at election time from outside its borders. Greece was one of the few countries that didn’t. For a country that is the birthplace of democracy, it is an indictment to Greece to not allow its citizens to vote.
Bill Papastergiadis is the President of the Greek Community of Melbourne