The 200th anniversary of the modern Greek state in 2021 must coincide with a new constitution “by the people and for the people,” which ushers in a new political era of democracy and dignity for all Greeks, Prime Minister Alexis
Tsipras said on Monday.
Presenting the government’s proposals for a sweeping revision of the constitution in the peristyle of the Greek Parliament, Tsipras said it was time to “finish with the old” and the political decline that mired the country in its current political and economic crisis.
“In reality, we are today addressing a call to all the citizens for a revolution of democracy. For the first time to decide a new constitution with the people, by the people and for the people. For the first time to decide together the kind of Greece that we want,” Tsipras said.
This “revolution of democracy” would in no way violate, as some will doubtless rush to claim, article 110 of the constitution that dictates specific conditions and processes for revising the constitution, Tsipras underlined,
presenting the government’s proposals for a process of “open dialogue” involving all citizens on a national level.
This process would, on the contrary, “would move fully within the spirit of constitutional dictates, expanding and ensuring its popular legitimisation,” he added. The role of citizens was not only to indirectly approve or reject the contents of a revision through their vote but to “be involved in the formulating the proposals,” he said.
The old elite will once again seek to confine the process of revising the Constition within the walls of Parliament, to a discussion between experts, Tsipras noted, adding that this fear of opening the discussion to society was characteristic of an ‘aristocratic view’ about who had the right to express an opinion, to agree or disagree.
“We want a process that actively involves the citizens and is not confined to Parliament. In September we will announce the composition of a national organisational committee that will set up a broad open dialogue on a national level.
Our aim is to organise talks in all municipalities in the country, with the participation of academic and social organisations, movements of citizens and groups but also individual citizens. In this effort we naturally look to the support of local government.
In the second stage, we want the results of this public debate to be collected via 13 assemblies in each region of the country,” Tsipras said, noting that this dialogue would only be further enriched by a website where each citizen would be able to contribute their own proposals or objections.
“The economic crisis was finally the result of the post-junta polity’s defeat, not its victory…the answer to the current problems, to the new challenges and the new political reality created after the last six years can only be a transition to a new change of polity,” he said.
Among the government’s proposals is the option for the election of the president directly by the voters and holding referendums by “popular initiative”, as well as enshrining simple proportional representation in the constitution and a “constructive” process for tabling a no-confidence motion against a government.
The last, he explained, would require a no-confidence motion to be accompanied by a proposal for a new prime minister in order to ensure governmental stability.
Parliament should only be able to elect the president if a candidate had the support of at least two thirds of MPs. If this was not possible in two successive elections, the process should then be turned over to the electorate, with a general vote between the two top-ranking candidates of the last Parliamentary election. Tsipras also suggested a “reasonable” increase in the president’s powers, enhancing the presidency’s regulatory role.
The prime minister went on to make a series of proposed changes, including the abolition of parliamentarians’ immunity from prosecution and the establishment of a special judicial body to pass judgement on bills already made into law.
He called for changes to limit the maximum term of MPs to not more than two successive Parliaments or eight consecutive years, while the post of prime minister should be confined to an elected official or serving MP, with the exception of caretaker premiers.
He said referendums should be made mandatory for any treaty transferring sovereign powers of the state, and proposed mechanisms for holding referendums initiated by the electorate themselves, providing they had sufficient popular backing. He proposed holding a referendum on national issues with half a million signatures and referendums on ratifying legislation passed by Parliament or proposed by the citizens with more than one million signatures, except in fiscal issues.
Among others, Tsipras said the time was right to “establish the religious neutrality of the state” while recognising the Orthodox faith as the dominant religion, with steps such as making a civil oath mandatory for elected officials and other public functionaries. He also noted a need to expressly forbid the removal of state control over essential public goods, such as water and electricity, and to protect the role of collective bargaining as the only means to set wages.
The only way to emerge from the crisis, once and for all, was to “finish with the old,” Tsipras said. “This is the universal demands of our people and at the same time their clear-cut mandate. No government can serve it unless it has the people, the citizens themselves, as its allies,” he added.