Article by Greek Deputy FoMin Kassimis on Voting Rights for Greeks Abroad

Constitutional Provisions Giving Greeks Abroad the Right to Vote

The decision of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis that all Greeks, wherever they may reside, be enabled to vote is without a doubt an important step in the functioning of our democratic system of government, and implements the relevant provision of the Constitution. The draft law was submitted for consultations to the political parties and to the representatives of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) with the aim of engendering an exchange of views that will help toward realisation of this goal.

I have studied the views of the SAE Coordinators carefully, and I would like to make certain observations regarding their concerns and thoughts, because I think that two separate things are being discussed.

The Prime Minister’s announcement refers to enabling all Greeks who have the right to vote to exercise that right, even if they reside abroad. Let’s look at what has been the case to date for this category of citizens.

The large political parties try to secure free transport for their voters from their place of residence abroad to their voting district in Greece. This was usually done through the chartering/rental of transport (airplanes, buses), the provision of free tickets for air or rail transport, or the subsidising of travel fares. This sort of ‘election activity’ by political parties concerned – for purely practical reasons – voters living in European countries. It is a practice that, in my opinion, is an insult to the essence of our democratic system, because:

A) In order to exercise their right to vote, the citizen had to join organized supporters of a given party, relinquishing a measure of their independence.

B) It concerned only those living in certain European countries, and not all Greeks residing abroad.

C) Potential voters who did not have the luxury of being able to leave their place of residence for 3-5 days could not make use of this ‘option’, which required them to vote in their electoral district in Greece.

D) The number of voters transported depended on how much money a given political party had at its disposal for this purpose, which is a clear violation of democratic principles.

E) Many millions of euros were squandered to benefit a small percentage of voters residing abroad, and only in certain European countries, favouring political parties with unlimited financial means.

The proposal being submitted by the government enables every Greek, wherever they may reside, to exercise their right to vote, thus ensuring equal opportunities for political expression for all of the country’s citizens.

We now come to the thoughts and concerns of the SAE Coordinators, who are requesting the creation of special electoral districts for Greeks abroad and representation in the Hellenic Parliament. This proposal warrants careful study and development through dialogue, but it has nothing to do with the draft law and the objectives it is serving. First and foremost, however, we must agree on the need to enable Greeks who are abroad during elections – whether as professionals working outside the country, as students, or in any other capacity – to exercise their right to vote. Supporting denial of this right is indicative of an anti-democratic mindset or narrow party-political ends.

The SAE Coordinators’ proposal for the creation of voting districts outside of Greece presupposes the opening of a discussion with the country’s political forces and Greeks abroad, as well as research on a global level into the feasibility of implementing such a measure. More specifically:

A) The creation of electoral districts outside of Greece presupposes a provision in the constitution that was not deemed necessary by, or did not occur to, those who proposed the relevant provision made for Greeks abroad to vote in the 2002 amendment to the Constitution. Unfortunately, however, no such proposal was made during the recent Constitutional revision process.

B) Research will have to be carried out into who will have the right to register in potential electoral districts abroad. Because those who are residing abroad temporarily, for 4-5 years – for professional, academic, travel or other reasons – cannot be incorporated into these districts. That is, the conditions under which a voter residing abroad could register to vote in one of these districts would have to be clearly defined. It will be important to designate the length of continuous or permanent residence in a given place that would render a Greek abroad eligible to enter this category of Greeks abroad.

C) The legal regime of each country will have to be studied in order to determine the potential for implementing such an action without creating possible negative repercussions for Greeks abroad in their place of residence.

D) Extensive surveys must be carried out among Greeks abroad who are eligible for the status of permanent residents abroad to determine their intentions, so that in case such a measure is implemented, it will really express the desire of the majority of Greeks abroad.

Having been presented, the views and proposals concerning the creation of voting districts abroad must come under discussion and careful consideration. But they are in no way related to the spirit and objectives of the draft law presented by the government. So it would be prudent for us to take the first major step, enabling all Greeks to exercise their right to vote, while also initiating a discussion of the proposals that have been put forward regarding electoral districts abroad.

(Posting date 05 May 2007. Original article appeared in Athens daily
Apopsi on 28 April 2007)

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