OPINION

Electing the president

Rarely has a parliamentary debate touched upon the heart of an issue as it did during discussions for reviewing the presidential election system. The existing provision allows opposition parties to use the vote as a lever for triggering early elections – although it must be said that no serious problems have emerged so far, as parties fear a public backlash against perceived abuse of power. The decision in 1995 by the late PM Andreas Papandreou to nominate Costis Stephanopoulos for president was dictated by necessity but it also set a precedent. Costas Karamanlis followed Papandreou’s example 10 years later by choosing Karolos Papoulias. A positive political tradition has emerged whereby the ruling party picks a distinguished figure from the ranks of the opposition. That does not mean to say that the provision must remain unchanged. After all, virtually everyone agrees that a premature election sparked by a presidential deadlock will not do democracy any good. In adopting New Democracy’s proposal – for the president to be elected with 151 votes – efforts for consensus will wane as parties will have the power to elect their favorite candidate. Also, that would further enhance the premier’s (already large) powers. PASOK’s proposal (that people should vote should an impasse occur) is practical but not coherent on an institutional level, as switching from one type of vote to another seems awkward. A system merely based on popular vote would make more sense and strengthen the president’s political legitimacy. Some say that would lead to undesirable repercussions as the president will be politically – albeit not institutionally – able to act as an independent pole. Others welcome what they see as a limitation of the premier’s excessive powers. The provision will most likely not change. But at least we’ll get a taste of creative parliamentary dialogue.