Parliament debate on constitutional revision officially began on Wednesday, less than a year before general elections must be held in Greece, and with main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterating a long-standing pledge that his center-right New Democracy (ND) party will expunge wording in the Greek constitution now preventing the establishment and operation of non-state universities in the country.
As expected, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a firebrand leftist before assuming power in January 2015, mostly steered clear of the non-state university issue, which involves a prospective revision of Article 16, and instead touched on the procedure for electing a president of the republic, a simple representation election system and church-state relations in the predominately Orthodox country of roughly 11 million residents.
Failure by Parliament to elect a wholly ceremonial president caused a snap election in January 2015 and a resulting landslide by Tsipras' radical left SYRIZA party. On Wednesday, the Greek premier expressed his support for a direct election by the voters of the Greek head of state in case a parliament majority is unattainable.
Tsipras' and SYRIZA's proposal to include a simple representational system as a constitutional mandate has also generated sharp criticism by most of the opposition, who charge that the country will be rendered ungovernable.
In language more reminiscent of his party's radical leftist lineage, Tsipras said his SYRIZA's proposals for constitutional revision "aim to boost parliamentarianism, to deepen democracy and popular participation; to protect social rights, and to abolish the privileged institutions that favor the political elite".
In his address, Mitsotakis first repeated that Tsipras and poll-trailing SYRIZA party have merely rehashed the constitutional revision debate to deflect from the harsh political reality they face.
He called Tsipras' proposals for holding referendums and up to six months in the process to elect a president as dangerous.
"The content of revisionary provisions (to be voted on by the current Parliament composition) are not committal for the next Parliament," Mitsotakis said from the podium, charging that the current coalition government is afraid that it will lose the coming election and desperately wants to avoid the next government proceeding with liberal revisions.
"You're (Tsipras) completely confused about Article 16 ... 50,000 Greek students are studying abroad, and not all of them are rich... You are depriving them of the opportunity to choose to study in their own country..." he said, before adding: "our primary concern remains the public university."
Finally, the pro-reform and pro-business Mitsotakis told MPs, and viewers watching on Parliament's TV channel, that a universal "asylum regime" for university campuses in the country will be completed abolished. "The Rouvikones (self-described anarchist collectives), trouble-makers and drug peddlers will be thrown out of the universities."