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19th Dec 2018

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Greek parliament abolishes list system ahead of EU vote

  • Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras - a good result in the EU elections could give him enough leverage to call early elections (Photo: PIAZZA del POPOLO)

The Greek parliament on Thursday (27 February) approved a draft law introducing a series of amendments to regulations affecting the country's European and local elections to be held in May.

Modifications range from disenfranchising non-EU nationals in local elections, to changes in the European parliamentary elections voting procedure.

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The main opposition party has lambasted the administration's moves as a "hopeless effort" to "avoid their coming defeat" at the European elections.

Critics say some of the new rules are a step toward the political territory of Golden Dawn, the increasingly popular anti-immigrant far-right party.

European elections are traditionally a way for voters to punish the ruling parties and voice their disenchantment with government policy.

This May's elections are expected to be a litmus test for the fragile coalition government, which is continuing to implement the country's austerity programme demanded by Greece's international creditors.

The amendments include the repeal of a law introduced in 2010 under George Papadreou's socialist government which allowed non-EU nationals to vote in municipal elections.

In 2010, when the previous local elections took place, 12,583 non-EU nationals were registered to vote.

The legislation, known as 'Ragoussis law' after the Interior minister of that time, allowed third country nationals and diaspora Greeks with valid residence permits to vote and stand as candidates in the elections.

The centre-right New Democracy party, which is at the helm of the coalition government, spearheaded the call for amendment by citing a ruling of the country's supreme administrative court which qualified the Ragoussi law as "unconstitutional".

Interior Minister Yannis Michelakis justified the government's move by arguing that it would remove the possibility of future court decisions annulling the local election outcome.

The opposition leftist party, Syriza, has branded the government's decision as an attempt to lure right-wing voters who might be thinking of voting for Golden Dawn.

Meanwhile, the government will also amend the country's voting procedure at the European elections – replacing the party list with the direct election of MEPs.

Analysts say that while the government's amendments can be considered as a move towards direct democracy they could also just be political manoeuvring.

"On the one hand, [the changes] can be considered a boost to direct democracy and better representation as people can choose candidates instead of just a party," said George Tzogopoulos from the Athens-based ELIAMEP think-tank.

"But on the other hand, they could also lead to clientelism again because candidates could try to establish a relationship with their voters to gain their support."

Earlier this month, the government also decided to change the date of the European elections to 25 May. This coincides with the second round of local government elections (the first round is on 18 May) where turnout is traditionally lower.

The EU elections – normally not a big draw for voters – have taken on an outsize role in the Greek political landscape.

A strong showing for left-wing Syriza, currently topping the polls, could give the party enough political leverage to force the government into snap elections.

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