The parliamentary debate on which articles of the Greek Constitution will be amended in the parliamentary session after the next general election led to a battle royal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis with mutual recriminations about exploiting the process of revising the country’s basic law to achieve partisan electoral aims.

The focus of the dispute was the proposed change of the procedure for electing the President of the Republic in Parliament. Both SYRIZA and New Democracy want to abolish the requirement that the legislature be dissolved and a general election be held if the requisite majority is not achieved in successive votes. But ND rejects SYRIZA’s proposal that a protracted deadlock be broken by the election of the president by the electorate.

The crucial political issue is that now the main opposition can deny the government the requisite enhanced majority to elect the president so as to force a general election and topple the government.

New Democracy took SYRIZA by surprise when it said that it would back revision of the related Article 32. That would mean that the amendment of that article would garner a two-thirds majority of 180 votes now and could be amended by an absolute majority of only 151 votes by the next government, which all polls indicate will be New Democracy.

That led SYRIZA’s rapporteur, Alternate Foreign Minister Yorgos Katrougalos, to suggest to parliamentary reporters that the government might boycott the vote at least by the abstention of a number of MPs so that the amendment will not pass with 180 votes, so that the next government cannot determine the content of the article and pass it without the consent of the main opposition (with 151 votes). Katrougalos later claimed that the media’s reporting on his remarks was “fake news”.

Though constitutional provisions for the election of the President are designed to force a parliamentary consensus, there was no sign of that in today’s debate, where the tense climate of pre-electoral polarisation dominated the debate.

Mitsotakis’ quid pro quo

In yet another surprise move, Mitsotakis proposed to the Prime Minister that each of them back amendment of all the articles that the other party is proposing.

The conservative leader later narrowed his offer saying that if SYRIZA agrees to amend Article 16 (to legalise the establishment of private universities) and Article 24 (to establish measures to guard against climate change, to better manage water resources, to mandate reforestation after wildfires, and to bolster the development of renewable energy sources), then New Democracy will back amending any two articles that SYRIZA wants to change but ND now disagrees.

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