Total Pageviews

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Diaspora and political participation in Greek political affairs

On the 29th of October 2018, the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX organised a two-panel public debate entitled “Diaspora and political participation in Greek political affairs” held at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens. The event was put together by SEESOX, in cooperation with the Greek Politics Specialist Group (GPSG) of the Political Science Association, the think tank DiaNEOsis and the Onassis Foundation, and was co-convened by Othon Anastasakis, SEESOX Director and Principal Investigator of the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Director of Research in DiaNEOsis, and Lamprini Rori, Lecturer in Politics at Exeter University, Press Officer of GPSG and associate of the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX.

Photo gallery

The issue of the Greek diaspora’s political participation in Greece’s internal affairs is a very important topic given the number of Greeks abroad, including the recent wave of crisis-led migration, estimated at approximately 400,000 people. In addition, Greece is one of the few European countries which – with the exception of European elections – does not allow out of country voting. The event was particularly topical in that it coincided with the creation by the Greek Ministry of a Special Committee of Experts, to discuss and prepare a draft law for the Parliament on the issue of the diasporic vote, in view of the upcoming elections in 2019.

The first panel was chaired by Othon Anastasakis, and in conversation with the panellists, the latter approached the issue of political participation from a conceptual, historical and comparative perspectives, by discussing the ways in which diaspora Greeks can affect Greece’s internal affairs, as well as the opportunities and difficulties of an inclusionary approach on the issue of the diaspora vote.

Alexander Kitroeff (Associate Professor of History, Haverford College) stressed the important role that diaspora Greeks played in critical moments of Greek history i.e. during the fight for the independence of Cyprus, the Greek military junta, as well as cases of lobbying on issues of Greek national interest; he also addressed the special role of the Greek American community, and the Greek American Church as agents of Greek diaspora influence abroad.

Dimitris Christopoulos (Professor of Comparative Politics, Panteion University, and Member of the Committee of Experts) emphasised the importance of facilitating the vote abroad, given the rising number of Greek citizens outside of Greek borders, and argued that the debate in Greece is torn by two broad opposite views: on the one hand, the inclusionary, which claims that Greek citizens have the right to participate in the motherland elections, irrespective of where they are, and on the other, the exclusionary, which claims that the right to vote should only be given to the Greek citizens living in Greece. He then addressed the difficulties in defining the appropriate conditions and criteria which should be fulfilled when giving the right of vote to Greeks abroad.

Anna Irene Baka (Scientific Associate, Greek National Commission of Human Rights) discussed the diasporic vote from a human rights perspective and reviewed the relevant political and constitutional obstacles and considerations. She argued that setting a time limit of absence from the country beyond which there is no right to vote, a proposal which has been gaining some currency, may run into constitutional barriers and would require a constitutional revision.

Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Professor of Law, University of Oxford) stressed the historical links of Greek Diaspora with the West and the important contributions of diasporic Greeks to the homeland, but also raised the problem of mutually suspicious perceptions between homeland Greeks and Greeks abroad; he also shared some of his personal experiences as a diaspora Greek scholar who engaged intensely in the formation and membership of one of Greece’s political parties, To Potami.

The second panel focused on the issue of the diaspora vote from a political practitioner’s perspective. The panel was chaired by Lamprini Rori who, in conversation with politicians from different Greek political affiliations, asked for the priorities of the government on the issue, the relevant social stereotypes among public opinion and the possible partisan stances.

Kostas Poulakis, Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior, and chair of the Special Committee of Experts, said that his Committee was working intensively to deliver the relevant proposal by the end of January 2019. He explained that the Committee was invited to answer three specific questions: “Who from the diaspora should vote?”; “Whom should the diaspora vote for?” and “How would they vote?” (‘Who, Whom, How”). On the first question, while it is straightforward that those Greek citizens who are already on the electoral roll should be facilitated to vote wherever they are, it becomes much more difficult when considering citizens of other countries who are of Greek descent (second, third or fourth generation Greeks) and are able to acquire Greek citizenship. On the second question, Kostas Poulakis pointed that the options on the table are to vote for the parties and the deputies of the electoral district in which they are registered; vote for a general electoral national list; vote for a separate ballot of candidate members for the Greek diaspora community. The third question refers to options such as the postal vote, vote in consulates, vote by delegates or an electronic vote.

Stavros Theodorakis (leader of the Party To Potami) said that his party has always been supportive of the diaspora vote, and confirmed that he would back the diaspora electoral law in Parliament; he also added that he hoped that at least those who emigrated abroad during the last years of the crisis would be enabled to vote, although he doubted whether the committee's proposal would reach a decision in time for the next national elections in 2019.

Kostas Bakoyannis (Regional Governor of Central Greece) advocated the possibility for expatriates to vote for the candidates of their own region, while arguing critically that Greeks abroad are not given the right to vote because Greek politicians do not see them as definite potential supporters and cannot use their clientelistic pre-electoral practices with them.

Finally, Kyriakos Pierrakakis associated the importance given to the diasporic linkages with the demographic problem that Greece currently phases. He pointed on a certain type of populism which deliberately confuses the vote of expat Greeks in general with the right to vote of citizens registered, now living out of the country. Those people, he said, might experience the paradox of being able to vote from their host towns for the EU elections, but not for the national ones, if elections take place on the same date. He emphasised the importance of the inclusionary approach vis a vis the diaspora vote and criticised the Greek political elites, which for so many decades have avoided addressing the issue, despite pretending in rhetoric to be in favour of this. And this last point encapsulated the biggest question and dilemma that characterised the discussion: since there seems to be a political consensus in Greece on the subject, why had no government has ever dared to introduce the diaspora vote?

In sum, the event at the Onassis Cultural Centre was very important in that it gave the opportunity to the panellists to discuss with each other and with the audience the constitutional and political impediments to the adoption of the diasporic vote, at a time when this has become a very pertinent matter in Greek politics. The realisation that Greeks abroad can change the electoral outcome in a completely unknown direction appeared to be the main explanation for the reluctance of parties to adopt the electoral law.

Othon Anastasakis (Director, SEESOX)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.