It is not unusual to witness some level of tension between a government and individual members of the parliamentary group supporting that government. In fact such tension is natural in a way because deputies are by definition accountable to their voters with whom they are constantly in contact, and because every constituency has its own particularities.
To be sure, responsibility for ruling the country ultimately lies with the government. Nevertheless, lawmakers have an undeniable right to express their opinion, as conservative MP Marietta Giannakou was right to point out recently.
In this context, the disagreements expressed by conservative MPs during the debate on the bill on parent-child relations and other family law issues (including provisions for joint custody) which was passed in Parliament last week were not a matter of in-party dissent. Rather, they were an indication of insufficient deliberation within the ranks of the ruling party, a process which is necessary for the smooth functioning of the government – in fact of any government.
Asked how he organized his time during his tenure as Germany’s chancellor, the late Helmut Kohl retorted, “I would spend half the day dealing with government affairs and the other half dealing with the party and the deputies.” Because, obviously, it is they who have to take government policy to the voters.
A very tricky issue that conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be called upon to face is when the protocols included in the Prespes accord are put to a vote in Parliament.
It is true that the name deal, which led to Greece’s recognition of North Macedonia after it was signed by the leftist SYRIZA government in June 2018, spawned a fierce reaction from some New Democracy members and MPs. Aside from some over-the-top attacks on SYRIZA and then prime minister Alexis Tsipras, however, serious misgivings and objections were also raised over some of the terms of the agreement.
However, the agreement between Athens and Skopje was signed and it was subsequently ratified in the Greek House. Mitsotakis stated that he would not cancel the deal and would respect it regardless of any reservations. Former prime minister Antonis Samaras of New Democracy has said that he will vote against the protocols. Meanwhile, observers have in vain tried to weigh the stance of Kostas Karamanlis, also a former conservative premier, and any predictions are pure speculation.
Tsipras has said that he will request a roll-call vote as well as an apology from New Democracy deputies for the accusations made against him at the time and before the national election. It is a legitimate reaction. After all, everyone is demanding an apology these days, as if it has any meaning.
But the biggest issue concerns New Democracy deputies, mainly those representing northern Greece. They must by no means be humiliated by the party leadership with an enforcement of party discipline. Lawmakers must be granted a conscience vote, because this is the safest way to prevent conservative voters from drifting toward parties to the right of ND or deciding to abstain in the next election.
For representative democracy to be effective, political parties must possess intelligence, or to at least be able to achieve a meaningful degree of inner-party understanding. This is something which requires time and effort, or even the smallest details can be seriously damaging.