Playing fast and loose with the Constitution

Playing fast and loose with the Constitution

Article 53 of the Greek Constitution clearly states that MPs are elected for a term of four consecutive years, which commences on the day of the general elections. It also dictates that the “President of the Republic shall dissolve the Parliament on the proposal of the Cabinet, which has received a vote of confidence, for the purpose of renewing the popular mandate, in view of dealing with a national issue of exceptional importance.”

These directives are, unfortunately, only summarily applied, as just three governmental terms expired when they ought to have had: the 1977-1981 New Democracy government and the PASOK governments of 1985-1989 and 2000-2004.

Prime ministers have otherwise always found a “national issue of exceptional importance” (usually Cyprus) in order to call snap polls. We could actually say that we’ve been to the polls so many times for national reasons that there should be no more such national reasons needing to be addressed.

This unconstitutional practice has become the norm. It no longer seems to bother us – which is why the SYRIZA party went to a whole new level of defying the Constitution. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, recently announced that the main opposition will not participate in any votes in Parliament in protest at all the “violations against democracy and the rule of the law committed” by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. So, while we had MPs who wouldn’t speak up, now we also have MPs who won’t vote.

There is no arguing that the wiretaps of politicians’, journalists’ and others’ telephones and, more importantly, efforts to cover up the scandal are of utmost importance. However, it is not an issue that can be described as “national.” I guess the Constitution is there just to look pretty.

On the other hand, the farce of Tsipras as a staunch defender of democracy points to something bigger: that when the effectively unconstitutional practice of holding early elections no longer offends, someone will always come along and go one better. That, unfortunately, is how politics and life work, and that is how democracy starts to gradually slide.

Asking “What’s the big deal?” is the first step down a slippery slope. We won’t go into SYRIZA’s obvious attempt to pique New Democracy because the conservatives abstained from the vote on the new Criminal Code in the last week before the last elections were declared. It’s a separate issue.

But while we are on the subject of the 2019 elections, does anyone remember why they were called early? Neither the governing party’s defeat in the European Parliament elections of May nor Mitsotakis’ insistence on early elections can be defined as “national issues of exceptional importance.”

It was just further proof that the violation of the full four-year term foreseen by the Constitution does not even try to invoke the Cyprus issue anymore.

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