At last, a law on expatriate vote in Greece

By Dimitris Christopoulos (Panteion University), GLOBALCIT collaborator. In this video, our Country Expert gives an overview of the bill and explains how it was adopted.

12th December 2019 has been a historic date for the Greek Republic. Forty-five years after the adoption of its current Constitution (1975) a law regulating the vote of the expatriate citizens was adopted with an extra-ordinary majority of 288 out of 300, which is quite unique for Greek parliamentary history.

Ever since its adoption, article 51 of the Greek Constitution has provided that “matters pertaining to the exercise of the right to vote by persons living outside the Country may be specified by law.”

In 2001, the aforementioned article was reformed as follows:

Matters pertaining to the exercise of the right to vote by persons living outside the Country may be specified by statute, adopted by a majority of two thirds of the total number of Members of Parliament. Concerning such persons, the principle of holding elections on the same day does not impede the exercise of their right to vote by postal vote or by other appropriate means, provided that the counting of votes and the announcement of the results is carried out when this is also carried out across the Country.

The parliamentary super-majority has been constitutionally enshrined in order to impose broad consensus requirement over such legislation. Such consensus had been very difficult to achieve in the past, which was the main reason why such a law had never been voted on till now. The first attempt to legislate on the matter was made by the Greek conservative party New Democracy (Nea Democratia) in 2009 but it failed to gather the necessary majority of 200 votes in the Parliament. The second initiative was taken by the Left. In 2018, Syriza’s government appointed a committee of experts to draft a law on expatriate voting. In the fall of 2019, Syriza, (in opposition since June 2019), presented the draft as its own legislative initiative. On the other hand, ever since it had been elected, the new government of New Democracy announced its will to enfranchise Greek external citizens. For the first time in Greek contemporary politics, external voting became a priority issue for all sides of the political spectrum.

Although the rhetorics – and to a certain extend the expectations – of the Greek government were far more generous in terms of expanding the vote to a broader expatriate electorate, the law provides for a considerable number of restrictions aiming at guaranteeing that the persons entitled to vote conserve genuine links with the country.

Such law would not have passed without a Constitutional reform. The Constitutional reform procedure luckily coincided with the parliamentary discussion on the external citizens vote. In this context, Article 54 of the Constitution regulating the electoral system has been amended in order to guarantee that the forthcoming legislative reform would not be deemed anti-constitutional by the electoral court. The new provision contains certain preconditions for the external vote that could be specified by law. It particularly names the following ones: the “real bond with the State”, “personal presence at the polling station”, “time of absence from the country or presence in the country for a certain period in the past”. The new Constitution provides that a number of seats of State Deputies[1] would be occupied by representatives of external citizens, whose vote would only be counted at the State level and not at the level of each electoral constituency. Finally, the amended Constitution foresees the possibility of creating one or more extraterritorial electoral constituencies for the expatriate Greeks.

The law of 12 December subsequently specified these constitutional options as follows:

  • The number of parliamentary seats of State Deputies, i.e. national representatives, is increased from 12 to 15 in the Parliament of 300 seats.
  • Each party must nominate at least 3 candidates who are themselves expatriates, one of whom will have to be placed in one the three first positions of the national ballots.
  • Special electoral lists for external voters will be created, which will be updated every 8 years.
  • The vote will be exercised in polling stations created in Greek embassies, consulates, or other appropriate spaces provided for by Greek expatriate organisations.
  • The minimum number of registered voters for the creation of a polling station is 40. The voters will be registered online in due time before the elections.
  • The expatriates will only vote at the national level for a list without the possibility of selecting a preferred candidate in their home constituency in Greece.
  • A committee will be set up within the Ministry of Interior, with one representative of each party and one of the Greek Ombudsman. The Committee will be handling citizens’ complaints related to the external vote.
  • The right to register on a special external electoral list is reserved to voters who have resided in Greece for a minimum of 2 years over the last 35 years and have submitted their tax declaration on income in Greece for the previous or the current year. Former residence in Greece will be proved by official documents, such as schooling or university certificates, social security stamps or military service certificates.[2]

Greece has joined, at last, the growing group of states that have extended the right to vote in national elections to their citizens abroad.

Enfranchising Greek external citizens has been an emblematic issue in Greek politics particularly during the last decade of the Greek crisis. It is estimated that during this decade a number of 400.000 Greeks have emigrated. The law which has just been adopted does not aim to cover all Greek citizens living abroad, a group counting approximatively 2 million people, i.e. 1/5 of the Greek population. De facto, its implicit objective is to provide the possibility of external voting only to recent Greek emigrants and not the total of the diaspora.

[1] Article 54, par 3 of the Greek Constitution provides that “Part of the Parliament, comprising not more than the one twentieth of the total number of its members, may be elected throughout the Country at large in proportion to the total electoral strength of each party throughout the Country, as specified by law.” These parliamentary seats belong to the so-called State Deputies.

[2] Greece does not posses a residents’ register and therefore the implementation of this provision might be proven problematic.