In December 2019, the Greek Parliament approved, with a formidable majority of 288 out of 300 MPs, a bill that allowed Greeks of the diaspora to exercise their voting rights from their place of residence. Since 1975, Greece had stipulated the constitutional right for all its citizens abroad, to vote in national elections, provided they returned to Greece on the day of the elections. As such, the 2019 adoption of the law on the facilitation of the diasporic vote abroad, which defined the terms allowing for the exercise of this democratic right, was a pivotal moment in the political engagement of the Greek diaspora with their homeland.
The fact that this change took place 44 years after the right was first introduced in the Greek Constitution, is not a mere chronological coincidence but it had to do with a number of necessary and sufficient conditions which led to this change. We argue that the long post-2009 economic crisis in Greece, resulting into a new party-political landscape and a considerable wave of outward migration of Greece’s labour force of nearly half a million people, was a critical configuration which led the Greek political parties to embrace a more inclusionary interpretation of the diasporic vote.
The argument rests on three main propositions first, that the crisis acted as a “critical juncture” with a transformative potential; second, that the political parties were the central agents being the ones most affected by this change; and third, that the widespread international practice of the diasporic vote exercised normative pressure on Greece’s domestic to facilitate the diasporic vote abroad.
We argue that the post-1975/pre-2009 period being a long period of growth, remigration and bipartisan New Democracy/ PASOK political stability, through a convenient clientelistic practice of supporting the travel of expats to come to Greece to vote, did not provide sufficient pressure to develop and facilitate further the vote of diaspora, thus leading to an undemocratic practice of wider expat exclusion and mere selective inclusion. The earlier attempts to specify the law in 2001 and 2009 showed that the parliaments could not reach the 200 MPs majority which was needed to amend the constitution on the facilitation of the vote abroad
Based on discourse tracing of the parliamentary Hansard and selected media articles of the period 2009-2019, we notice how the expat vote became gradually a central reference point in the relationship between the Greek political parties and the diaspora, as a result of the increasing emigration which reached a peak in the years 2012 and 2015 and formed a potentially active political constituency that could not be ignored. While all parties agreed with the principle of facilitation of the expat vote with different arguments on the inclusionary nature of the process, the right-wing party of New Democracy was consistently the biggest advocate of the more inclusionary practice, assuming that the decreasing role of PASOK from the political landscape and ND’s more technocratic and conservative outlook, would rally the biggest portion of the diasporic vote; it therefore kept on bringing the matter to the parliamentary special committee on diaspora. But it was the government of SYRIZA, itself not espousing a very inclusionary approach on the issue, which was forced by circumstances, and with an interest in reforming the electoral system of the country, to convene in the autumn of 2018 a special committee to review the matter comprehensively leading to a rising debate on the issue among parties and in the Greek and diasporic press. The conduct of parallel European and national elections in 2019 brought about more external (transnational) pressure on the issue, given that Greek citizens abroad were facilitated to vote in European elections in their place of residence but not for the national elections. The rise of New Democracy in power in July 2019 led the new government to proceed with the adoption of the law among its principal priorities. The preparatory phase of law-making is indicative of all the horse-trading needed in order to reach the wider consensus on the issue.
The facilitation of the diasporic vote, even under the substantial number of restrictions and conditions that were adopted, redefined the relationship between the homeland and the diaspora but its impact remains to be seen in its implementation phase, in the number of expat registrations to vote abroad, as well as how the imposed restrictions will allow for a convincing facilitation or a mere facade.
This piece first appeared at the HO blog Greece@LSE