The Greek diaspora will probably be absent from the general election in Greece scheduled to be held after April, as only 3,500 Greeks living abroad have registered to vote thus far.
This is a fiasco for the government and political parties in Greece who turned their back on the diaspora with the new law which discourages, through bureaucratic obstacles, Greeks abroad to register.
The new law approved in 2021 allows the diaspora to vote without having to fly back home. Until now, Greece was the only country in Europe—and perhaps the entire western world— where full citizens living abroad were denied the right to vote in Greek elections from the country of their residence, either by casting a ballot at the Greek embassy or through postal voting.
Conditions for diaspora vote discouraging
However, the conditions attached for someone to vote from the Greek embassy or consulate of his/her residence are discouraging for much of the diaspora.
Two main requirements were accepted and imposed by the opposition in 2021. Those eligible to vote must have had a two-year stay in Greece in the last thirty-five years, which is difficult if not impossible to prove, and those over thirty must be tax-registered in Greece.
The bureaucratic conditions imposed and the cumbersome process of finding and certifying the documents required have been discouraging for most of the diaspora.
History of the diaspora vote
In late 2019, for the first time in history, all the parties in Parliament agreed to make it easier for the diaspora to vote from their places of residence.
The New Democracy (ND) party had made the diaspora vote a pre-election banner. After its electoral victory, it proposed legislation that would have removed all restrictions for the diaspora to vote in national elections.
The Ministry of the Interior at the time estimated that the regulation would bring more than two hundred thousand voters to the polls. The number caused a stir in leftist SYRIZA, which believes that it does not have the same resonance as the ND among the Greek diaspora.
In May 2021 Greek leftist parties voted in Parliament against an amendment, proposed by ND, that would have removed all restrictions. The move was only supported by the center-left Movement for Change and the populist New Solution. SYRIZA, the Communist Party, and Yanis Varoufakis’ Mera25, voted against it.
The amendment to the current law needed a two-thirds majority to become law and, therefore, it was rejected as the leftist opposition holds more than 100 seats in Parliament.
Faced with opposition to its plans the government decided to retreat from its goal to allow the diaspora to vote without restrictions.
Soon after Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged the limitations of the law. Speaking to diaspora Greeks in London he said:
“We succeeded and partially implemented it, we would like the definition of those who have the right to vote from their permanent place of residence to be broader.
“We unfortunately, as you probably know, stumbled over the 200-seat limit that we had to put together and unfortunately we were unable to get other parties to expand the definition.”
Greek law on diaspora vote for the elections will not change
The law provided for three state MPs to be elected by the Greek diaspora on the state ballot.
Nevertheless, a low turnover in registrations of Greek expatriates to vote in the national elections could challenge the principle of electoral equality by creating a paradox in which three MPs would each be elected by an electoral body consisting of less than one thousand voters at the very best.
This anomaly caused the government to rethink the law. It was reported that ministries were considering changing the electoral law to reflect reality. But any change in the law would require a two-thirds majority, which, under the current political climate in Greece, would be impossible to achieve.
Last week, Interior Minister Makis Voridis confirmed that the law will not be changed.
Voridis admitted to ERT that there is a “structural flaw” in the law, namely “a consequence of the compromises” that the ruling ND made with the opposition in order to pass a law allowing for the vote of the diaspora. It would otherwise remain unable to vote at all in national elections.
Technically, however, the Minister added, the three MPs elected from the registered Greek expatriate voters would be State MPs, which means they would not directly represent the diaspora by whom they would be elected but the entire state.
The law on the vote of the diaspora proved that this was an inefficient arrangement. Greece believed that the law would create a strong vital link between the homeland and the diaspora of millions.
However, fewer than those who live in a Greek neighborhood of Chicago have thus far registered to vote.