PM outlines proposals for constitutional reform

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday presented his party’s proposals for sweeping changes to the Greek Constitution, heralding reforms that would reduce the terms of state officials and increase the accountability of ministers as well as the transparency of political parties.

The proposed reforms, outlined before an audience of New Democracy members at the Athens Concert Hall, cannot be implemented until the next Parliament sits, and the next general elections are not due until 2016. But Samaras presented the suggested overhaul as part of a broader bid to cast his party, which leads the ruling coalition, as forward-looking and progressive ahead of looming local authority and European Parliament elections.

“In 1974 we changed Greece,” he said. “We are changing it again now, with much effort and sacrifice.”

“For this new Greece, I will not back down, I will not compromise,” Samaras added. “I call on you to give me the mandate for us to change Greece together.”

The reforms he proposed included re-examining parliamentary immunity for MPs, setting a limit on the time prime ministers, local authority officials and trade unionists can serve in office, and improving the transparency of party finances. Another key reform the premier suggested is for ministers to be obliged to give up their seats in Parliament and for a reduction in the number of lawmakers that sit in the House. Samaras did not elaborate on the latter point but recent reports have suggested that the number could be whittled down to 200 from the current 300.

The premier also called for the president to be chosen by the Greek public rather than elected by Parliament and for the powers of the president, whose role is chiefly ceremonial, to be broadened.

Samaras did not miss the opportunity to lash out at the political opposition, which he did not name, suggesting that it was following an irresponsible and risky course. “Opposite us, we have the political forces of inertia,” he said. “Those who invest in populism, in fear, in polarization, those who yearn for the days when the streets were ablaze and hooded youths ran amok.”