The Debate Over the Diaspora Greeks’ Right to Vote

tsipras-mitsotakis-vouliOpposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis questioned Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras through Twitter over his refusal to consider giving the right to Diaspora Greeks to vote.

Yet, the tweet opened again the debate over the potential of giving the millions of Greek citizens living abroad the choice to vote in general elections.

Mitsotakis used the example of Sunday’s general elections in Austria, when the postal votes of Austrians living in other countries prevented the extreme right party from winning the election and bringing the green party to power.

The debate of the postal vote — or electronic vote nowadays — is an ongoing one. It requires an overhaul of the election system along with changes in the Constitution. So far, no administration in the post-dictatorship era took the initiative to proceed with the issue.

The reasons that Greece is not offering the millions of Greeks living abroad the right to vote are multiple. It could be simply lack of political will, or the mountains of red tape required, or lack of computer skills of civil servants, or just pure Greek laziness in the public sector. Or a combination of some or all of the above

Considering that a citizen needs days to get an official document that is more complicated than a birth certificate or a tax clearance form (in most cases), imagine what it would take to establish a system that would count either postal or electronic votes. The average Greek civil servant would ask for a sick leave only for thinking how hard that would be.

Regarding the possibility of remote electronic vote — a choice advanced countries like the United States or Switzerland offer their citizens living abroad — is very unlikely to happen in Greece where many civil servants lack computer skills. It’s hard to implement that to a populace that in 2016, the majority views electronic payments as risky. So, for the time being, let’s not expect this from an administration that admits that the employees of the ministry handling public works cannot post contracts for public works on the government transparency website because they do not possess the computer skills to do so.

In the past the prevailing argument among politicians and ordinary citizens was that only those who actually live in Greece can decide who is going to govern and run their everyday lives. The choices of Greeks living in countries with completely different political systems should not affect Greek policies. But today, after six years of harsh recession and a brain drain that cost at least 180,000 bright minds and professionals and hundreds of thousands more economic migrants, it is not fair to leave those people out of the crucial decision of who is going to govern this problematic land. After all they may wish to return one day.

The economic crisis has led the short-lived governments of the past six years to turn to Diaspora Greeks for support. Yet, it is not fair to ask from Greeks who live — and in many cases prosper — abroad to support and promote Greece, have property or invest in the country but at the same time deny them the right to vote. It’s hypocritical, to say the least.

At the same time, it seems illogical to nationalize migrants and give them full citizen rights but keep Diaspora Greeks who have family here away from the ballot box.

In 2014, then prime minister Antonis Samaras had proposed allowing Greeks living abroad to vote. Reportedly, junior coalition party leader and vice president Evangelos Venizelos had refused. After the example of Austria, maybe it is time to bring the idea back to the forefront.