Government leaders on Monday heralded a slew of legislative reforms aimed at reining in ultra-right Golden Dawn following the arrest on criminal charges of the party’s leader and another five lawmakers, with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras saying his coalition was focused on “eradicating” the party.
“There is no room for neo-Nazis in any part of the democratic world,” Samaras said, adding that the Greek judiciary was now handling the case against the deputies who, he insisted, would have a fair trial. Samaras, who was speaking at a private meeting of the American Jewish Committee in New York, stressed that he did not regard Greeks who voted for Golden Dawn as neo-Nazis and that financial hardships had compelled them to support the party, adding that the economic outlook in Greece had improved significantly.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference after an official visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said he did not believe the 12 Golden Dawn MPs who have not been arrested would resign en masse, a move that could prompt by-elections. Still, he insisted that “the Greek government will not be blackmailed by anyone.” He noted that the Constitution allows the government to pass reforms that would permit Parliament to operate with fewer seats if a party is deemed to be abusing the right of its deputies to resign in a bid to create political upheaval.
Meanwhile government officials were to submit legislation in Parliament which would suspend state funding to political parties whose leaders or MPs are charged with crimes. An anti-racism bill foreseeing stricter penalties for racially motivated crimes is to be submitted in the coming days.
A discussion is also under way about whether and how to suspend the salaries and benefits of MPs who are awaiting trial on crime charges.
The left-wing main opposition SYRIZA party expressed skepticism about the government’s bid to prevent the possible resignation of Golden Dawn deputies from undermining political stability. SYRIZA deputy Dimitris Papadimoulis countered Venizelos’s suggestion that a simple parliamentary majority is adequate for such a reform to pass into law, claiming that an enhanced majority of 200 votes in the 300-seat Parliament should be required to overhaul the country’s electoral law.
Papadimoulis also took issue with the fact that SYRIZA’s calls for snap election are suddenly being presented as “a threat to democracy” and accused the government of trying to “equate” SYRIZA with Golden Dawn by suggesting that both parties are equally extreme. On Sunday night, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras repeated calls for snap polls, predicting that they would bring a “sweeping victory” for his party.