Simitis loses vote on MP job ban

Eight members of the ruling PASOK party broke ranks and helped deliver a stunning blow to the government yesterday, bringing about the first defeat of a bill in a parliamentary vote for the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1974. With eight PASOK deputies voting against the bill, three abstaining and at least two MPs absent so as to avoid voting, legislation aimed at bringing into effect a constitutional ban on MPs holding down other jobs was defeated. The final tally was 149 votes against, 140 in favor and three abstentions in the 300-member chamber. The ban has already been imposed via a constitutional amendment adopted in 2001. This means that the ban will apply without exceptions. The MPs who had voted in favor of the amendment (including the opposition New Democracy party) and then turned against it were angry at what they called the government’s failure to deliver on a promise to introduce enough exceptions to the ban. The government introduced only some waivers such as allowing artists to be paid royalties for the duration of their term in Parliament. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals, in particular, were strongly opposed to the ban. The legislation was voted down in a committee on January 29 but the government went ahead with the legislation and presented it to the plenum. Before both votes the government had tried hard to sway PASOK MPs opposed to the legislation. But yesterday only three MPs who had appeared certain to vote against the legislation changed their minds and supported it. It appeared that MPs had voted according to their personal interests rather than the government’s needs. The government, on the other hand, had done nothing to bring about a compromise by softening the ban. New Democracy, since the committee stage, had sensed that the government was facing a rebellion by some of its members and so also opposed the legislation. Yesterday its members were exultant at Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s great discomfort. The only ND MPs absent were Ioannis Varvitsiotis, who as a party spokesman had supported the constitutional amendment, and his son Miltiades. The Communist and Left Coalition parties voted against the legislation. Constantine Mitsotakis, ND honorary chairman and former prime minister, said, «My political conclusion is that Mr Simitis’s obstinacy and rigidity are hastening the breakup of PASOK.» Asked if he thought this constituted a vote of no confidence in the government, he said, «Clearly no, but it is a heavy blow.» Simitis was furious, though it had become apparent in previous days that it would be very difficult for the bill to pass. He had refrained from telling his MPs that the vote would be a vote of confidence. «If anyone has been hurt by this it is the opponents of the ban and all those who proposed the violation of the constitution,» Simitis told his Cabinet, according to government spokesman Christos Protopappas. The prime minister’s aides spread the word that he had avoided making the vote an issue of confidence because it did not concern government legislation but rather the activation of a constitutional amendment. Simitis wanted to show he would not compromise, they said. «He is determined to carry out his policy, and if anyone disagrees he should shoulder the burden of bringing down the government,» an aide said. PASOK’s Gerasimos Arsenis, Nora Katseli, Theodoros Katsanevas, Dimitris Kremastinos, Giorgos Papageorgiou, Stelios Papathemelis, Elissavet Papazoe and Yiannis Kapsis voted ‘No.’