Elections are not trials by jury

History has its own brand of irony. For example, Panayiotis Psomiadis, the Thessaloniki politician who is as enamored of television as the medium is of him, was found guilty of dereliction of duty and given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for three years, while Greece?s media were on a four-day strike that silenced news programs and talk shows across the board. The governor of Central Macedonia missed the chance to make his case to the public from the television screen and had to wait until yesterday in order to defend himself with the argument that his is a case of political persecution and that he is being punished for simply being a philanthropist.

Psomiadis had been charged with the same crime by a first instance court, which found him guilty of reducing an 89,000-euro fine that had been imposed on a gas station owner to 5,000 euros. During an investigation, the owner of the business had been found not only to be adulterating the fuel he sold, but also to be running a lab inside the gas station where he dyed and adulterated heating oil.

Psomiadis evoked the gas station owner?s poor health as the reason why he stepped in and performed this act of charity. In doing so, he has added a whole new concept to the vocabulary of what is legal and what is not, after former Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis?s claim that ?what is legal is also moral.? Now, according to the Central Macedonia governor, ?what is charitable is also legal,? and so he has broadened the scope of excuses that politicians can make to justify their indiscretions. It appears now they can even argue that kickbacks and bribes are of benefit to someone: ?I accepted the ?donation? because I wanted to help my party,? one charitable soul once said, as another argued, ?I took the check from Siemens because I have kids to put through college.?

Psomiadis?s most brilliant line of defense, however, which he used every time the municipal council accused him of anything back when he was mayor, is the following: ?I prefer to be judged by the people, who made up their minds four months ago [during elections], than by a court of law.?

But Psomiadis and all other politicians using the same argument should know that polling stations are not courtrooms, voters are not juries and elections are not popular trials. No mechanism for providing exemption from crimes due to the public?s vote has been put into effect yet. After all, we have enough loopholes for our politicians.

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