Acrimonious constitutional revision debate held with a view to general election

Wednesday, 13 February 2019 22:04
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A two-stage process for constitutional revision served as the latest political “battleground” between the Tsipras government and the opposition this week, especially with main opposition New Democracy (ND), with all sides essentially looking forward to the next Parliament plenum that will arise with this year’s general election.

In essence, the current plenum proposes constitutional revisions, but the next parliament composition to arise will finalize revisions, either with a 150+1 majority of MPs, or with an extended majority: above 180 deputies.

In beginning his address from the podium on Wednesday evening, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sharply criticized his rival, ND president Kyriakos Mitsotakis, over the center-right’s positions on the election of the figurehead Greek president. In response, Mitsotakis countered with the challenge: “vote for our proposals for revisions, so we can vote for yours”. ND is particularly interested in revising Article 16, in order to allow the operation of non-state universities, as well Article 24, with deals with environmental protection and land uses.

Tsipras and his leftist SYRIZA party’s main proposals are to detach the election of the head of state with the compulsory dissolution of Parliament in case MPs cannot elect a president. The proposal comes just more than four years since the same party benefitted from a deadlock to emerge victorious in the January 2015 election. A popular vote would be foreseen in case Parliament cannot elect a president.

Another proposal for revision is to mandate that a prime minister, as head of the government, is an elected MP, precluding what the leftist government has called a “government by technocrats”, a thinly veiled reference to the appointment of Lucas Papademos as premier in 2011.

Tsipras also wants a more simple proportional system to be enshrined in the constitution, a measure that would benefit smaller and often marginal parties, something he says boosts “democratic rule”, but which the center-right opposition calls a recipe for a political disarray.

Other proposals by the government include term limits for MPs and what Tsipras called a “rationalization” of Church-state relations, in the direction of a more secular state.

Finally, Tsipras also proposed the enshrinement of what he called the concepts of “popular referendum” and “popular legislative initiative” in the current 120-article Greek constitution.

In reply, Mitsotakis repeated his challenge for a mutual approval of both the government’s and ND’s tabled revisions by the current Parliament plenum, whereby the next legislature to arise from general elections will require a simple 150+1 majority to finalize the revisions.

"If you believe in the popular mandate, you have no reason to fear our proposal… when the people are called on to choose, they’ll not only do so for a (new) government but also for the (constitutional) articles (to be revised),” he said, adding: “What everyone realizes is that you are trying to engage in the political management of your looming defeat”.

Mitsotakis’ statement refers to opinion poll results and prognostications showing his center-right party easily defeating Tsipras’ leftists in the coming election, and even flirting with an electoral showing that will give ND 150+1 deputies in the 300-MP legislature.

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