Addressing parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that SYRIZA viewed the revision of the constitution as the foremost parliamentary procedure, rejecting main opposition criticism that the debate had been “rushed”.
“This is not the first time that we are discussing the constitutional revision; there is no precedent of so much discussion on the process of revising the constitution, and I consider the accusation that the process was conducted ‘on the hoof’ and in a rushed way to be unfair,” Tsipras said, replying to main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
For the government, constitutional revision is a “primary parliamentary process,” the premier said, charging that the political system ruling the country for the past 40 years had ample opportunities to make constitutional revisions but never had the courage to do so.
The opposition “tired to undermine and snub the process of revision, and to create stumbling blocks,” unlike the government that “sees this as an especially critical process now that Greece is exiting from the dramatic experience of the loan memoranda.”
The revisions the government is proposing will “fortify the parliamentary processes, strengthen the intervention of the populace, establish stricter protection of social rights” and resolve relations between the church and state, as well as repair institutional aberrations like the law protecting ministers from liability.
Speaking of the electoral law the government is proposing, he said, does not provide for a specific electoral system, but for a model that will allow the closest represention of popular will in parliament.
The electoral change and the constitutional changes, he said, will “strengthen the principle of popular sovereignty and protect democratic institutions from external interventions.” This would result in “a strong government with a guaranteed four-year rule and a parliament that is not purely decorative but can play a decisively influential role through the establishment of the proportional representation electoral system,” Tsipras explained.
Speaking of the process of parliament’s election of the Greek president, he said that his party supported “successive elections, and if these don’t bring results in six months’ time, going to direct public voting as a final recourse, if a consensus is not reached” among parties. He clarified, however, that the proposal does not foresee any changes in presidential powers.
Tsipras criticised the main opposition New Democracy’s proposal for the election of the president as “self-serving”. The ND position to allow the election of a president with 151 votes in the 300-strong parliament “springs from the desire to be able to elect a president of the republic with 151 deputies if by any chance they win the next general elections.” If this is ND’s true purpose, “it constitutes the epitome of political opportunism,” the prime minister charged.
Commenting on abolishing article 86 on ministerial liability, Tsipras was optimistic that this would happen in the next parliamentary cycle. Addressing himself to ND he said, “You are making it difficult for us to abolish the article on ministerial liability, because although we will win the next elections, it is uncertain whether we will have 180 deputies. But I believe that with the support of more parliamentary factions, we shall be able to do so with 180 deputies.”
Finally, speaking about relations between the church and state, PM Tsipras said that his proposal to establish the state’s religious neutrality and the obligation of using a civil swearing-in ceremony, e.g. for a new cabinet, shows the government is “taking a mature and necessary step towards balancing relations of the church with the state.” This step, he said, is also regarded as necessary by the church itself.