Politics only for pros

Greece’s long democratic tradition is about to start a new chapter, with members of Parliament being forced to choose between representing their constituency or keeping the jobs they had before they were elected. As many of Parliament’s 300 members are successful lawyers, doctors and other professionals, the law stemming from a constitutional amendment has provoked strong reactions. But the lawmakers, although so influential in almost everything else, appear to have no way out, as they have a week in which to decide. «The law may be voted on right after the holidays, with the precondition that it will apply from Jan. 1, 2003, from which time members of Parliament will not be able to continue in their professions,» said Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, presenting the bill yesterday. Skandalidis himself professes to be a journalist, having written mostly for the publications of the ruling PASOK party. This pursuit of professional deputies is a far cry from the days of democracy’s birth in ancient Athens, when the legislature was made up of citizens from all walks of life selected by lot. The bill appeared designed to sweeten the pill by providing a number of provisions making it easier for MPs to solve social security and pension issues. They will now retire at 60 instead of 65. This exclusivity is aimed at preventing MPs from exploiting their influence for the sake of their professional interests, and to allow them to dedicate all their time to their legislative and representative duties. But critics argue that deputies who are deprived of their lucrative professional incomes may be open to bribery. Also, by keeping the best and the brightest of public life outside Parliament, the legislature may be filled with mediocrities who will depend on the party leadership for their political future, thereby depriving Parliament of independent spirits. Deputies will have to declare by Dec. 31 that they are suspending all professional activity or are resigning their seat. This applies also to MPs who have businesses, who must suspend their activities or transfer ownership. The only outside activities that will be allowed are research – academic and artistic – taking part in charitable events and providing services to the party. Only income from royalties will be permitted. Those who are not re-elected and cannot ensure a enough income will be given two-thirds of an MP’s pay for eight months.

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