ELECTIONS

Greeks abroad closer to voting back home

Registration platform about to go online as officials estimate some 300,000 citizens living outside the country want a say in next election

Greeks abroad closer to voting back home

A new online platform paving the way for Greek citizens who live abroad to vote in the next national elections back home is expected to go live by the end of February. Once it is up and running, the platform will allow overseas Greeks to register their details so that they can cast their ballot – whenever the next national election takes place – at their place of residence.

The implementation of Law 4648/19 on the voting rights of diaspora and overseas Greeks aspires to correct any injustices felt by Greeks living abroad, as they, along with the Irish, are the only European citizens who cannot vote in their own country from anywhere in the world, even if they are only away for a few days’ holiday on election day. 

Interior Ministry sources told Kathimerini that they expect around 300,000 Greek citizens abroad will want to register to vote in the next election but clarified that specific details and numbers will only become apparent in the later stages of the process. It should also be noted that there are no current time constraints on registering online for those wishing to do so. However, as Interior Minister Makis Voridis also pointed out, the entire registration process should be completed within a reasonable timeframe before the elections, just like voter registration within Greece. 

The registration platform is “almost ready,” Kathimerini understands from ministry sources, but will not come online until it has been properly linked to other government departments to facilitate access to and the sharing of documents from the unified network.

The legislation in question gives all Greek citizens living abroad the right to vote in the next national election if they can prove that they have lived continuously in Greece for two years in the last 35 years. This can be validated by presenting a variety of documentary evidence, which among others includes the national service certificate, proof of social security contributions and degrees from Greek universities. 

The main goal of the legislators who proposed the bill was to give voting rights to Greeks who were compelled to seek employment abroad due to the Greek financial crisis from early 2009 to late 2018 and more broadly those who, despite leaving, still have close ties with the country. A significant factor in properly implementing this process will be establishing the number of voters who successfully register on the online platform, and their places of residence, as they will form the “electoral body of Greek citizens abroad.”

Voting will be conducted in person at polling stations around the world set up and supervised by the Greek Interior Ministry. For the establishment of a polling station in a region, the legislation specifies, there must be at least 40 registered voters. The final number of registered voters will, therefore, determine the number of polling stations required and their locations. In any case, whoever registers an intent to vote from their place of residence will automatically forfeit their right to vote in Greece.

Broad political support

The Interior Ministry is also disassociating the launch of this new platform from speculation on the possibility of early elections, refuting any such rumors. In fact, when this new legislation was passed by the Greek Parliament in December 2019 with a strong majority (out of 296 MPs present in the 300-seat House, 288 voted in favor while only seven voted against and one voted “present”), it was reported that the online platform would be ready within two months.

In December 2020, Stelios Petsas, who was at the time the responsible minister, approved and signed a 3-million-euro contract to manage the project’s exposure and media presence, but since then nothing further has materialized.

The news that they will be able to vote in the next national election without having to travel to Greece was met with joy, great interest and complete surprise by three Greeks living and working abroad.

While first feeling surprised but vindicated, Archonti Konti, who lives in London and works as a senior account manager in marketing, is also troubled. Her first impression is that, “of course, why shouldn’t we get a say in the kind of ‘there’ we would return to, if we so choose?” She also stressed that “all my friends who aren’t Greek or British vote in their own elections from here.”

However, Konti recognizes that the argument against Greeks abroad voting is also valid. She says that it is fair to question why she would get to decide on Greece’s future if she does not live there.

She also wonders why “those who live in Greece do not go to vote,” and says that, “on the other hand, I can’t vote here, because I do not have a British passport.”

She concludes by saying that “many Greeks in London are registered with political parties and their respective parties in Greece should not try to draw early conclusions on how we will vote and act, because they will be surprised.”

Having a say

Chrysa Papastathi is a doctor who has lived in both France and Britain and is now the director of a diabetes and obesity clinic at a hospital in Neuchatel, Switzerland. She is very positive about the idea of allowing Greeks who have recently emigrated to vote from their place of residence.

The people who left Greece in the last few years tended to be well-educated and their input on Greek affairs can only be positive, she argues, explaining that “we did not just leave to find employment, but because we did not fit in with the prevalent mentalities in Greece.”

She elaborates by saying: “We have lived in countries that operate differently, we have experience and are politically aware, we can contribute to Greece’s progress.

The ability to vote from your place of residence – because let’s be honest it is not easy to drop everything and return to Greece for election day – gives some people who believe that things could be done differently the ability to vote for people who may be able to do so. The right to vote reintroduces us to Greek society, to which we have much to offer.”

Ioanna is a dairy specialist / food technician, who, after working in Greece for a few years, moved to the Netherlands for work. When she was appointed to a position in the Greek public sector, she returned for a few months. However, she soon returned to the Netherlands when she found that “the conditions were very bad.” Today she lives and works in Utrecht.

She remembers the anger she felt during the 2015 referendum on whether Greece should accept the bailout conditions set by the country’s creditors.

“Those of us who were directly affected by the referendum – those of us who lived abroad and would be affected – did not have a say,” she says.

She also views the prospect of voting without having to travel to Greece very positively. She concludes by saying that she wants “to have a say in what is created in Greece, what I will live with if I return.”