NEWS

PM issues his challenge

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday presented a proposal for a new electoral system that would greatly change the rules of the political game. The proposal’s timing – with elections 10 months away at most – raised questions as well. The main opposition New Democracy party immediately rejected the proposal. Simitis’s proposal, made after a six-and-a-half-hour meeting with ministers and other aides, would result in: greater difficulty in forming one-party governments; more cooperation between parties; separate ballots for parties and members of Parliament; smaller parties having a bigger part of 80 percent of the pie (as opposed to the current 70 percent); eradication of the State Deputy ballot; sharing of seats not going to any specific party among the two leading parties; breakup of large constituencies; and keeping the 3 percent parliamentary threshold for a party. The overall result will likely shift the political contest from a PASOK-New Democracy duel to one between broader formations of center-left and center-right parties. Socialist PASOK would, in this case, be able to draw on the support of smaller leftist parties while conservative ND would be very much on its own. «In the current electoral system, candidate deputies pursue citizens’ votes in ever-increasing conditions of competition,» Simitis said. «Politics often gives way to personal conflict. Campaign costs are growing out of control and candidates look for funding wherever they can. This fact creates ground for subsequent dependence. Conditions are now ripe for us to seek, through consensus, a new electoral system.» Simitis said he desired a debate on when to effect the changes, saying this could be after the spring of 2005 so as not to be tied to any election prompted by Parliament’s inability to elect a new president of the republic. «But we cannot accept that the government will have to wait until 2012 for a new electoral law,» he said. He noted the constitutional stipulation that any change of electoral law apply only after the next elections, unless the proposal gets more than two-thirds support in Parliament. This would require ND’s support. The conservatives’ leader, Costas Karamanlis, left no room for doubt. «We will not become a part of this parody,» he said minutes after Simitis. «The government’s tricks in the management of its defeat leave the citizens completely cold,» he added. «Whoever plays with the electoral law shortly before elections does not respect the principles and rules of democracy. Who can trust a government which won three elections with this electoral law, which provided assurances that there is no issue of a change and now raises the issue in the pre-election period?» Karamanlis charged. Simitis’s action, he declared, «constitutes an act of political dishonor.»