Greek prime minister pushes constitutional changes

26/05/2014

The government suggests term limits, transparent finances, a strong presidency and review of lawmaker immunity.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 26/05/14

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Prime Mininster Antonis Samaras said he wants a more accountable and transparent government. [AFP]

In an effort to make the work of government more accountable and transparent, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras proposed a series of sweeping changes including term limits and opening the books of political parties.

Samaras said he was keen to quell social unease and suggested the measures as the country is recovering from a seven-year-long recession.

Samaras also said the changes will limit how long officials -- including the prime minister -- can stay in office, and will review parliamentary immunity while in office.

"For this new Greece, I will not back down, I will not compromise. I call on you to give me the mandate for us to change Greece together," Samaras said.

Among his recommended changes is for Greeks to elect the country's president -- now chosen by parliament -- and expand the president's powers beyond the mere ceremonial ones. Other key measures forbid ministers from simultaneously serving as MPs and reducing the size of parliament from 300 to 200. Greece has one of the highest ratios of lawmakers per capita in the world.

"The amendment of the constitution is a necessary step for solving many of the Greek problems," Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute of Democracy in Athens, told SETimes.

"These changes will boost the effort of leaving behind the evils of the past and move ahead to a better future. The crisis can be a blessing in disguise," Klapsis said.

Part of the problem is the wall that political parties, which draw money from the treasury based on their results in elections, have put up against transparency, which Samaras said needs to be removed.

The ruling New Democracy and PASOK owe banks 250 million euros and have not paid them back. Meanwhile, the government has set aside a bill for relief for indebted households suffering under austerity measures the ruling parties imposed according to the terms set by international lenders.

Analysts said Samaras' recommendations cannot be considered until the next parliament after general elections scheduled for 2016, unless Samaras' ruling coalition is forced to early polls by political unrest.

"It is premature to take that kind of initiative within the current political instability," George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy told SETimes. "The government majority is tight and the European Parliament election result might cause new cohesion problems."

Critics said Samaras is using political pre-election ploys by handing out 500 euro social dividends to some sectors affected by the austerity measures it imposed, from a 1.5 billion euro primary surplus.

Opposition SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras said he would gain enough from the elections to force snap polls before the government's term ends.

Hoping to quell discontent sparked by austerity measures and banking scandals, Samaras said changes to the constitution would also show a commitment to fight corruption.

Politics and society go hand-in-hand, and while the proposals are refreshing, they remain linked to politics, said Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens.

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"A limit for prime ministers, mayors, etc., seems to be logical. But when [Samaras] was elected he also said that he would form a small government and he didn't," Sakellariou told SETimes. "This is not an issue of the constitution but of political will."

Sakellariou said Samaras perhaps does genuinely want to change the agenda and present himself as the prime minister desiring to transform Greece.

"But in order to change the constitution you need to gain consensus from the majority of the parties and not play by yourself," he said.

What should Greek authorities do to ensure the work of government is more accountable and transparent? Share your opinion bellow.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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