OPINION

Limited conscience

Can someone vote according to their conscience but also follow orders from above? Can someone feel free when their freedom is, on the one hand, subjected to time limits and, on the other, dictated by partisan expediency? No. Partial freedom is not freedom. When political party leaders announce that their deputies can vote according to their conscience (not always, of course, but on some specific issue), they do so anticipating credit for their democratic sensibilities. «Look,» they say: «This party knows no sheep and shepherds, no rigid party discipline that everyone has to follow. Our deputies can vote according to their conscience.» The truth is they deserve no credit. A bit of scorn would be more appropriate. Party leaders in fact praise and tolerate the conscience vote only when it serves their interests, when they wish to pass on the responsibility. Now that the bribery case of Aristotelis Pavlidis has emerged, the ruling New Democracy party has resorted to the conscience vote formula hoping that the maneuver will allow it to avoid a major political and moral problem. When Parliament was debating Article 16 of the Constitution, opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou allowed his deputies a similar privilege. They do not realize it but, in advertising their democratic credentials, political parties are, in fact, confessing to the lack of democracy within their ranks. The conscience vote is only tolerated by exception. However, by definition, deputies must vote according to their conscience on large and small issues alike. Conscientiousness is not a suit that one can put on and take off at will. Conscientiousness is a way of seeing things, our moral compass, our very identity. It cannot work part-time or be flexible so as to suit the issue at hand – as happened after the Vatopedi land-swap scandal, for example.