NEWS

PASOK rebels hold up job ban bill

The ruling PASOK party yesterday suffered its first defeat in a parliamentary vote in nearly two decades in power, when despite desperate efforts, it lost a vote on a law banning deputies from holding other jobs during their term in office. Two PASOK deputies were instrumental in causing this embarrassment. Prime Minister Costas Simitis immediately responded by demanding that the bill be passed as is by the parliamentary plenum, in effect challenging his party’s deputies to support it or bring about a government crisis. The ban has already been adopted in a constitutional amendment passed in 2001 with the votes of the government and conservative opposition, and so the law bringing it into effect will go to the parliamentary plenum anyhow. No date has been set for the debate. Simitis let it be known through close aides that he considers the issue one of principle, «and this has to be clear to all deputies,» as one source said. «The government, fully respecting the constitution and its demands, will insist on its proposal for the legislation to be passed by the plenum,» said government spokesman Christos Protopappas. PASOK, which has ruled for all but three years since 1981, has 26 of the 50 members on the Committee for Public Administration, Public Order and Justice. The opposition parties have 24. PASOK officials had tried to ensure victory in the vote for the approval, in principle, of the bill, replacing three government deputies who were known to have strong objections to it. But they did not count on Evangelos Yiannopoulos, an octogenarian former justice minister, leaving his sickbed after many months in order to vote against the bill. This vote was enough for the government to lose, but PASOK MP Stelios Papathemelis abstained, leading to a result of 24 in favor, 25 against and one abstention. But even this result was not immediately clear. The PASOK deputy presiding called for a vote by a show of hands and, after Yiannopoulos voted against, Papathemelis and two opposition deputies abstained, and the presiding MP said the «ayes» had won. Pandemonium followed, with loud protests from the opposition leading to a roll call vote. The New Democracy party, whose deputies had voted for the constitutional amendment and many of whom had supported the legislation in the committee debate, was delighted by the result. MP Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who planned the strategy, accused the government of breaking its pledge to present legislation that would set out which jobs could be exempted from the ban. «We hope the government will have learned its lesson from this regarding the need to respect the Constitution and keep its institutional and political promises,» Pavlopoulos said. The government, noting that both PASOK and ND had voted for the constitutional amendment, accused ND of displaying a lack of respect for the Constitution. Although the two main parties had voted in favor of the ban on deputies keeping the jobs they had before their elections, MPs appear to have realized belatedly how detrimental this would be to their pockets and their careers. Only two of the 300 deputies had said by the Dec. 31, 2002 deadline that they would resign if they had to. Legislation which was expected to provide enough loopholes for the Constitution to remain whole and the MPs happy failed to materialize by the time the bill was put to the vote for approval in principle yesterday.