OPINION

No political toy

The electoral process is fundamental to the parliamentary system. This process must be clear-cut and stand above petty political objectives. This, however, does not mean that the rules are not inflexible. It’s just that any alterations should take place at a more appropriate time, after lengthy discussion, and on a consensual basis. Changes to the electoral process with the aim of serving the political interests of the party in power have always been a sign of an immature and problematic parliamentary system. As a result, Greece’s revised Constitution prohibits a newly introduced electoral system from being implemented before upcoming elections, unless there is broad consensus. Prime Minister Costas Simitis has said that the existing electoral system will change anyway. But the politically expedient objectives behind his insistence are visible to the naked eye. Simitis has not bothered to spell out the political and institutional reasons that warrant such a change, especially just a few months before the end of his four-year term. The premier is determined to change the electoral system, in spite of the wide disagreement within his Socialist party which has forced him to shelve two of his original proposals: first, the ability of voters to pick a candidate from another party and, second, the establishment of regional deputies who would be elected according to a list. Barring the 1989 and 1999 polls, the electoral battles of the post-1974 period were held under various forms of reinforced proportional representation. This system does not ensure a fair distribution of seats, but it does produce stable governments. Its performance over the past 30 years is positive overall. The two alternatives suggested by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis are nothing but variations on reinforced proportional representation. In other words, the Simitis administration does not on principle veer from the beaten track. This means that there could be the basis for an agreement between the two main parties. But this possibility has been torpedoed by the premier’s insistence on passing the new electoral law before the end of autumn. If he truly saw an urgent need for a new system, he would have pushed it forward in the early years of his premiership. But he didn’t. The debate also could be held right after the elections, without the heat from the campaign period.