Dissolving Parliament when it is politically convenient


In contrast to other important plenary debates, Wednesday’s discussion for the revision of the Constitution in Parliament maintained a certain decorum. Lawmakers kept their speeches low-key and the confrontation was relatively mild. 

I will not focus on the legal aspects of the revision – which are better left to experts on constitutional law – on whether and to what degree the articles proposed should change, but on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s choice to defend his decision to topple the conservative government of Antonis Samaras four years ago, exploiting certain constitutional provisions for presidential elections.

Making this statement now after he and his party had decided that this law is wrong and should change, can only be described as a theater of the absurd.

One would have expected him to either avoid citing that unfortunate decision, or to recognize that it was wrong and should not be repeated. It would then make sense and be consistent with his argument in favor of disconnecting the election of the president from the dissolution of Parliament.

All serious politicians and opinion leaders agree that dissolving Parliament every time lawmakers cannot muster the required majority to select a president is wrong. It essentially hinders the normal operation of the House.

Whether the best proposal on how to resolve this predicament is that submitted by SYRIZA or New Democracy, is part of a separate albeit important discussion.

The issue here is that the prime minister stated, with evident satisfaction, that he was right to force the dissolution of Parliament in 2014. This happened even after the then premier Samaras had essentially committed to holding early elections by November 2015, if lawmakers agreed to elect a president.

Tsipras not only justified his choice, but he went on to argue that he was obliged to do so due to the polarization that he said dominated politics at the time, adding with certainty that anyone would have done the same.

It is provocatively inconsistent for the prime minister to propose revising the Constitution to stop the dissolution of Parliament if there is an impediment in the election of the president, when the one time he was offered the chance to do so as leader of the opposition he chose to force general elections, simply because it was politically convenient.

In that context it was almost surreal to hear him argue on Wednesday that he doesn’t play games with the institutions.