Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras yesterday (25 July) called for the abolition of parliamentary immunity for lawmakers and for more referendums to boost direct democracy.
Parliamentary immunity is seen in Greece as a protection umbrella for politicians involved in various scandals.
“We cannot allow a regulatory framework that has converted ministers and lawmakers to a ‘class’ which enjoys special privileges and operates uncontrollably,” Tsipras said, adding that all Greek citizens should be treated equally under the penal code.
The new constitution should enhance direct democracy and the role of referendums, Tsipras said.
The government suggested that any treaty transferring sovereign powers from the state should be subject to ratification by referendum. In addition, it proposes the possibility of holding a referendum on citizens’ initiatives to decide on;
- national matters (with the collection of more than 500,000);
- any voted law, excluding financial issues (over 1 million signatures).
Greek citizens will also be able to take legislative initiatives themselves, by collecting more than one million signatures for a proposal.
Speaking in the courtyard of the Greek parliament, Tsipras called for a “wide, open and fruitful dialogue” on the constitution of a new Greece with the participation of municipalities, regions and civil society. A special website will also be created in order for citizens to be able to submit their proposals.
“42 years after the restoration of democracy in our country, the post-junta cycle ends […] having provided us with an invaluable long period of social peace, but having left a state with major deficiencies,” he said, adding that the economic crisis had worsened the state’s problems.
The Greek premier also underlined that the economic crisis resulted in a defeat for the dominant political forces in Greece after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.
The role of the president
The Syriza-led government wants to enhance the role of the president, which is now largely symbolic.
Tsipras said that the election of the president by parliament was a possibility, if a candidate gained two thirds of the vote in two successive votes. Otherwise, the Greek people would dvote for the top two candidates from the last vote in parliament.
According to Tsipras, the direct involvement of Greek voters will help stabilise governments. Under the current constitution the parliament must be dissolved in the event of a deadlock in the election of the president.
The Greek government said the president should be given the right to address parliament for a “serious reason”. This could be to convene the Council of Political Leaders, as well as refer a voted law to a special consultative body composed solely of judges to rule on whether it was constitutional.
The candidacy of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the current president and centre-right main opposition New Democracy politician, was initially proposed by Tsipras. Pavlopoulos is a close ally of former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, an influential politician in New Democracy.
On 18 February 2015, he was elected by the 300-member Greek parliament, claiming 233 votes. The only New Democracy lawmaker who did not vote for Pavlopoulos was the current chief of the party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
For many, Tsipras made a political move that “trapped” New Democracy and to some extent ensured the “silent” support of Karamanlis camp.
The leftist premier also suggested that lawmakers should not be elected for more than two consecutive terms of eight years.
Tsipras said that one could be prime minister only on the condition that he or she is also an active lawmaker elected by the Greek people, with the exception of caretaker prime ministers.
He underlined that the rule of law meant “strict respect of equality among citizens” and suggested the abolition of parliamentary immunity.
Orthodox Church and independent authorities
Tsipras said that “technocratic ideology” supported the operation of independent authorities. That ideology desired the constant expansion of their responsibilities and powers.
The Syriza-led government came under attack recently for its alleged efforts to take control of country’s independent authorities.
Tsipras said that considering the increasingly technical nature of exercising power, independent authorities were necessary, but “independence does not mean absolute lack of parliamentary control”.
Regarding religion, Tsipras proposed an explicit guarantee of religious neutrality of the state but due to historical and practical reasons, Orthodoxy should be recognised as Greece’s prevailing religion.
“If Mr. Tsipras really wanted a new constitution for a new Greece, he should accept the proposal of Kyriakos Mitsotakis to have a consensus on as many articles as possible for the constitution reform, so that Greek people with their vote could decide in the [next] elections the necessary changes,” main opposition New Democracy party [EPP] said in a statement.
“Trying to escape from his harsh reality, he chose instead a perpetual consultation […] he attempts to gain time to escape from the deep isolation he has been through due to his failed policy,” it noted, adding that the party is not taking part in “pointless procedures”.
Fofi Gennimata, the leader of the Pan-Hellenic socialist Movement [S&D], accused Tsipras of undermining the constitutional reform process and distracting Greek people from the actual problems.
“He dodged the House and chose to speak in the courtyard,” she said, adding that the Greek premier wanted to make a [communication] show and not to focus on the essence. Referring to the government’s proposal for a wider dialogue on a local level, Gennimata said that the discussion for a constitutional reform cannot take place as Tsipras has planned.
“There is no room for games out of the parliament […] thus everything should take place in the parliament”.