The Parliament : The Political System

Constitutional History

Regional governments of the revolutionary period

With the beginning of the Greek war of independence in 1821 the first regional governments were established: “the Organization of the Temporary Administration of Western Continental Greece”, the “Legal Order of Eastern Continental Greece” and the “Peloponnesian Senate”. Those governments were founded by regional assemblies during the first year of the revolution (1821) and facilitated provisional government and military set-ups, until the eventual establishment of the "Assembly of the Nation". The latter would control regional administrations and possess all legislative powers. Furthermore, during the revolutionary period the constitutional drafts of Samos and Crete were passed by local assemblies in 1821 and 1822 respectively. It should be mentioned that one important element in the establishment of these early regional administrations is the initial and perhaps incomplete manifestation of political self-determination and individual freedom.

Constitutions of national range

The adoption of the first Greek Constitution took place in Epidaurus during the 1st National Assembly in January 1822. This constituted a major moment in the modern political history of the country, to the degree that it instituted to the consciousness of Greek society the principle of constitutionalism as the fundamental and necessary prerequisite of political stability. The Constitution was comprised of 110 short paragraphs divided in “titles” and “sections” and provided for the principles of representation and the division of powers. The “Administration” consisted of the “parliamentary” and the “executive” branch, both serving in annual terms and counterbalancing one another in the legislative process. The "Judicial" consisted of eleven members and was independent of the two abovementioned branches, although it was elected by them.

A year later, in April 1823, another assembly, the Second National Assembly, convened in the town of Astros, in Kynouria, to revise the Provisional Constitution of Epidaurus. The new Constitution, called "The Epidaurus Law", was more concise and technically succinct. It also gave a slight advantage to the Legislative branch over the Executive given that the latter's veto power was reduced from absolute to suspensory, it improved the provisions on the protection of individual rights and democratized the electoral law.

The Third National Assembly convened in Troizena in 1827. After unanimously electing Ioannis Capodistrias as "Governor of Greece" for a seven-year term, it endorsed the "Political Constitution of Greece", the most important Constitution of the revolution period. The Assembly aspired to provide the country with a stable government, modeled on democratic and liberal ideas. For this reason it referred to the principle of popular sovereignty for the first time: "Sovereignty lies with the people; all powers derive from the people and exist for the people and the Nation". This fundamental declaration was kept intact in all Greek Constitutions following 1864. In addition, the new Constitution established an explicit separation of powers, it vested in the Governor alone the executive power, while the legislative function was of the exclusive competence of the Parliament.

The Governor Ioannis Capodistrias (1828 – 1832)

Given the persistence of conditions of disorder and the difficulties in the exercise of governance, Capodistrias proposed in January 1828 the suspension of the operation of Parliament. The Parliament endorsed the proposal and established the “Panellinion” and later the Senate, two collective bodies with an advisory role. Capodistrias was fundamentally the supreme governor of the country who reinstated his powers via the representative system. Nonetheless, his continuing efforts towards the establishment of a stable, state infrastructure and the liberation of a considerable part of the country should be acknowledged.

In 1832, after a turbulent period that followed his assassination the “Fifth National Assembly” voted in Nafplion the new Constitution and appointed Capodistrias’ brother, Augustine in the position of Governor. The new Constitution reminded strongly the American one and was never in force. It was characterized as “hegemonic” since it provided for a hereditary Head of State.

Absolute Monarchy (1832 – 1843)

In the following period of King Otto’s absolute monarchy, the monarch’s contempt for the liberal idiosyncrasy of Greeks and particularly his ignorance of the fact that the social structures of the country did not allow for an autocratic regime, led to a popular uprising and to the insurrection of the Athens Guard in September 1843. After the revolution the National Assembly voted for a new Constitution.

Constitutional Monarchy (1843 – 1862)

The Constitution of 1844 was not the result of a sovereign national assembly, yet the latter simply conceded to its composition. For this reason it was characterized as “Constitution – Contract” or “Constitution – Treaty”. It established the principle of the monarch’s sovereignty, as the monarch retained the decisive power and incarnated the State; the legislative power was to be exercised by the King - who also had the right to ratify laws –along with the Parliament, and the Senate.

The new Constitution also established the principle of the separation of powers. In addition, the monarch would appoint and dismiss ministers who assumed responsibility and were accountable for the King's actions. The Constitution made reference for the first time to fundamental individual rights such as the “secrecy of letters” and the “inviolability of home”. Article 107 states that “Observance of the Constitution is entrusted to the patriotism of Greeks”.

Lastly the National Assembly adopted the electoral law of March 18, 1844, which was actually the first European law ever to make reference, in essence, to universal ballot.

The first period of Crowned Democracy (1864 – 1909)

A continuously changing social environment favoured a liberal and democratic consciousness in a way that King Otto’s absolutist tendencies could no longer be tolerated. In October 1862 a rising wave of discontent led the people and the military to rebel against King Otto and oust him along with the Wittelsbach dynasty.

The revolt marked the end of constitutional monarchy and the beginning of a crowned democracy with George – Christian – Wilhelm of the Schleswig – Holstein –Sønderburg – Glücksburg dynasty as monarch. During the transition period (October 1862 – October 1863) the system of governance was that of a governing parliament which was in operation for the first and the last time in the constitutional history of the country.

The Constitution of 1864 was the product of the “2nd Athens National Assembly” that followed a popular revolt. The Constitution included 110 articles and was influenced by the Constitutions of Belgium (1831) and Denmark (1849). With the revisions of 1911 and 1952 this Constitution lasted more than a century. One of the most important elements of the new charter was the restoration of the principle of popular sovereignty, where the people and not the monarch were the source and the driving force of state power. In addition, it established the principles of direct, universal and secret ballot which would take place simultaneously in the entirety of the country. The Assembly opted for a single-chamber (unicameral) Parliament for a four-year term, and hence abolished the Senate. The new Constitution would also allow Parliament to establish "fact-finding, investigation committees". Moreover, the King preserved the right to convoke ordinary and extraordinary parliamentary sessions, and dissolve Parliament at his discretion, as long as, however, the Cabinet signed and endorsed the dissolution decree.

The democratic nature of the new political system was also affirmed by the Throne speech in August 11, 1875. The speech established, albeit informally the principle of the parliament’s «declared confidence» which attributed a different meaning to the entire system of the organization of political powers and legitimized fundamentally the introduction of the parliamentary system. According to the principle of «declared confidence» the King had the obligation to appoint the Government taking into consideration the will of the parliament’s majority. Therefore, the Constitutional provision according to which «the King appoints and removes ministers» was in practice confined, insofar as the Government ought to receive a vote of confidence by the parliament.

The second period of Crowned Democracy and the declaration of a Republic (1911 – 1924.)

The Constitution of 1864 did not change until 1911. However, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were characterized by significant sociopolitical changes. The rise of the middle class, a shift in the role of the military, the gradual disappearance or the weakening of old political parties and practices, the new economic conditions, all exercised strong pressure on an obsolete political structure that had been put in place based on a different set of criteria. From a political, administrative, and social point of view those were the reasons of the "military coup" of Goudi (1909).

After that rebellion, Eleftherios Venizelos, leader of the Liberal Party became prime minister and proceeded with having the old Constitution of 1864 revised by the Second Revisionary Parliament. The pivotal points of the 1911 Constitutional reform were the enhanced protection of human rights (leading to the promulgation of "the public law of the Hellenes", which was the wording used at the time), the reinforcement of the Rule of Law and institutional modernization.

With regard to the protection of individual rights the most noteworthy amendments to the Constitution of 1864 were a more effective protection of individual security, equality in taxation, the right to assemble and the inviolability of the domicile. Furthermore, the Constitution facilitated expropriation so as for land to be allocated to poor farmers, while at the same time guaranteeing judicial protection of property rights. Other important changes included the establishment of an Electoral Tribunal with a view to settling election disputes that ensued after general elections, the addition of new reasons and capacities for MP incompatibilities, the re-establishment of the Supreme Administrative Court as the highest administrative court, improved protection of judicial independence, job permanence for public servants and a mandatory military service. Finally, it was the first time that the Constitution made provision for mandatory and free education for all, while the process of Constitutional revision was simplified.

Nonetheless the revolution of September 1922 resulted in the establishment of a Republic and the abolition of the Crown. The revolution was the outcome of a variety of domestic and international reasons such as the continuous conflicts of the political leadership with the palace, the catastrophic events in Asia Minor and the transformation of the geo-political situation in South East Europe. With the decisive contribution of Alexandros Papanastasiou the “4th Athens Constituent Assembly” abolished, in March 25 1922 the monarchy and established a Republic Democracy.

The Constitution of 1927

Whilst the Fourth Constituent Assembly was working towards a new Constitution, on the 25th of June 1925 there was a coup by General Th. Pangalos, followed by a second one by Kondylis in 1926. After the fall of the dictatorship the "Parliament of the First Term" was elected, and eventually, adopted the Constitution of 1927.

This Constitution is of special importance both with regard to social rights provisions and with regard to the introduction of new political institutions. In a chapter on the "Public law of the Hellenes", the Constitution of 1927 guaranteed further protection of certain individual rights (e.g. the freedom of the press) while it consolidated certain social rights (protection of work, protection of the family, etc.). However, its most significant feature was that it made provision for a head of state that the Parliament and the Senate would elect to serve a five-year term. The President of the Republic would be held unaccountable from a political point of view; he would not possess any legislative powers and could only dissolve the Parliament with the Senate’s approval. Some other innovative clauses of this Constitution included the institution of a provisional constitutional referendum and the protection for the first time of fundamental social rights such as the protection of science and the arts. Moreover, this Constitution provided for the protection of local governments and it allowed for the constitutional control of voted Acts of Law by competent courts. It also recognized the status of political parties as organic elements of the polity and established their proportional representation in the composition of parliamentary committees. Another important feature was the explicit establishment of the parliamentary system. It was the first time the Greek Constitution included a clause according to which it was imperative that the Cabinet "enjoy the trust of the Parliament".

As such, this Constitution which was in force for merely eight years has been typified by an excessive empowerment of the executive. Under a turbulent social and economic environment however it was impossible not to violate any effort of state intervention. As a result, a number of essential social reforms were not implemented. The short-lived government of Eleftherios Venizelos (1928-1932) was not able to generate a robust setting of parliamentary function.

The third period of Crowned Democracy (1952 – 1967)

The dictatorships of Kondylis and Metaxas, the difficult years of the German occupation and the civil war that followed, have drastically altered previous social and political equilibriums. The long awaited “parliamentary maturity” was consequently put to a halt. The development of parliamentary institutions resumed in 1948 and in the beginning of the 50’s.

The Constitution of 1952 consisted of 114 articles, had a rather conservative character and to a large extent it was strongly attached to the Constitutions of 1864 and 1911. Its central innovations were the explicit institutionalization of parliamentarianism and the consolidation for the first time of the voting rights of women, as well as of their right to stand as candidates for parliamentary office.

In February 1963 the government of K.Karamanlis submitted a proposal for an extensive revision of the Constitution. The proposal was never put into practice. Only a few months after its submission, the government resigned and the parliament dissolved. Nonetheless, not a few of the proposal’s suggestions are incorporated in the Constitution of 1975.

The seven-year-long military junta of April 21st, 1967 passed two Constitutions, one in 1968 and another in 1973; the latter actually established a system of governance without a King. Those Constitutions had nonetheless undemocratic traits, were unusually conservative, and were actually never in force.

The establishment of presidential parliamentary republic and the Constitution of 1975

Once democracy was reinstated in Greece in July 1974, the National Unity government of C. Karamanlis, set forth, first and foremost, to strengthen the rule of democracy and erase the traumatic experiences of the civil war and the dictatorship. The new government reinstated the Constitution of 1952, with the exception of the clauses referring to the King. The first free elections took place on November 17, 1974, while, on December 8, a referendum was conducted to decide about the form of government. The electorate, by a majority of 69.18%, expressed its volition against the crowned democracy, thus settling once and for all the issue on the form of government.

The Constitution of 1975 was drafted using those of 1952 and 1927, as well as the draft Constitutional revision proposals of 1963. Numerous clauses were also based on the West German Constitution of 1949 and the French Constitution of 1958. Despite significant disagreements on the first draft which had been prepared by the Cabinet of C. Karamanlis, the final draft gradually gained the largest possible consent of the major political powers and parties and was finally adopted.

The Constitution of 1975 included various clauses on individual and social rights, in line with developments at that time, and introduced a presidential/parliamentary democracy, wherein the head of state (President) maintained the right to interfere in politics. The Rule of Law was effectively protected, while the new Constitution made reference to Greece’s participation in international organizations and, albeit indirectly, in the European Economic Community.

The first revision of the Constitution of 1975 (1986)

On March 6, 1986, pursuant to article 110 of the Constitution according to which Constitutional articles and provisions are subject to revision except for those which determine the form of government being that of a Parliamentary Republic, along with certain other provisions, a total of eleven articles was amended and there was a vote in favour of transposing the text of the Constitution from purist into demotic Greek. The responsibilities of the President of the Republic were significantly curtailed. Yet, despite political and Constitutional tensions, the revised ‘Constitution of 1975/1986’, by introducing a clear parliamentary system of governance, was implemented in a way that guaranteed parliamentary stability and a normality of political life.

The second revision of the Constitution of 1975 (2001)

In the spring of 2001 there was a new, more extensive Constitutional revision in an ambiance of consensus. It is noteworthy that, despite the fact that a total of seventy-nine articles to the Constitution were amended, most of the amendments were adopted by a majority of 4/5’s of the house, while the term "consensual revision" reflects the political reality of that time.

The new, revised Constitution introduced new individual rights, such as the protection of genetic data and identity or the protection of personal data from electronic processing, and new rules of transparency in politics (on political party financing, electoral expenditures, the relations of media owners with the State, etc.). It modernized parliamentary functions, propped up decentralization, elevated the status of fundamental Independent Authorities into Constitutional institutions and adopted its provisions on MP’s disqualifications and incompatibilities to current reality after taking into consideration the Special Highest Court’s case-law.

The third revision of the Constitution of 1975 (2008)

The most recent revision, the 3rd Constitutional revision which took place in May 2008 introduced several reforms and amendments: it abrogated professional incompatibility and as for growth and development measures extending on insular and mountainous areas, the central administration now assumed special responsibility thereof. It also bestowed the Parliament with the power to proceed with proposals should certain preconditions apply, to amend the budget as well as an ad hoc procedure for the Parliament to oversee the budget’s implementation.

Today Greece has a politically and historically legitimate Constitution which is contemporary, in line with international developments putting in place a proper and integral institutional framework for the 21st century.

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