Members of the government and lawmakers of the ruling new democracy party applaud Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) after his speech on a vote of no confidence against the government in Athens on Jan 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
ATHENS – The Greek parliament paved the way for banning political parties whose leaders have been convicted of crimes from running in elections, ahead of national polls in spring.
Lawmakers voted late on Wednesday in favour of an amendment aimed at preventing political parties such as the extreme-right Golden Dawn, once Greece's third-biggest political force, from running as candidates, after it was declared a criminal gang linked to hate crimes in a 2020 court ruling.
Greece's constitution bars an individual with a criminal record from running in elections, provided that person's guilt has been affirmed at all stages of the legal process and is exhausted in appeal
It would also affect the small, far-right party Ellhnes or Ellines, which means "Greeks", co-founded by former Golden Dawn lawmaker and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 2020. Opinion polls put support for the party close to the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
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The amendment, tabled by the conservative government, was approved by a majority of lawmakers in the 300-seat house.
"No one in this room wants to go through, to see again… the parliamentary representation of a few becoming a vehicle of violence against citizens leading to brutal murders and injuries," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said before the vote, calling on lawmakers to approve it.
Golden Dawn has been linked to the murder of an anti-fascism rapper and a spate of violent attacks on political opponents, immigrants and left-wing activists. The appeal trial of convicted Golden Dawn members, including Kasidiaris, began last June and could last up to two years.
In a statement, Kasidiaris demanded that the amendment be immediately withdrawn and accused the government of "plotting against democracy" for its own interests.
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Under the amendment, parties cannot run in elections if their "real leaders", not only their official representatives, have been convicted at any instance for crimes that carry a sentence of up to life imprisonment, ranging from treason or spying to participating in a criminal organisation.
Greece's constitution bars an individual with a criminal record from running in elections, provided that person's guilt has been affirmed at all stages of the legal process and is exhausted in appeal.
A top court decides if parties meet the conditions to run in elections.
The leftist, main opposition Syriza party accused the government of employing tactics to win far-right voters ahead of the national vote.