Tsipras Uses Constitutional Reform to Distract From Greece’s Economic Woes

Tsipras Uses Constitutional Reform to Distract From Greece’s Economic Woes
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session, Athens, May 22, 2016 (AP photo by Yorgos Karahalis).

Last month, Greek lawmakers approved significant changes to the country’s electoral system that were proposed by the ruling, left-wing Syriza party, in what it called an attempt to make the electoral system more democratic. The law gets rid of a 50-seat bonus that is given to the party that receives the most votes, reduces the voting age from 18 to 17, and reduces the electoral threshold for a political party to enter parliament. The law passed by a majority in the 300-seat parliament, but because it received less than the 200 votes needed for the reforms to go into effect immediately, they will only enter into force after the next elections, scheduled for September 2019.

Despite the reforms’ stated democratic goals, some observers worry that they will make Greece harder to govern and force the creation of unstable coalitions. The opposition has accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Syriza of pushing for electoral reform to penalize conservative parties and prevent them from being able to form a coalition government if one were to win a future election.

The introduction of a more proportional voting system has long been a goal of the Greek left and is part of Syriza’s platform. The 50-seat bonus was only introduced in 2004, and many in Greece are in favor of making the electoral system more proportional. So the reform, says Dimitris Papadimitriou, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester, “is a symbolic gesture more than anything else,” that allows Tsipras to show he still holds on to his leftist ideals.

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