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Greece The Electoral System
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Except during the junta regime of 1967-74, the electoral process has provided a relatively stable, if ill-used, structure for the exercise of democratic choice in postwar Greece. Elections are based on direct, universal, and secret ballot. Parliamentary and municipal elections are held every four years unless the dissolution of the Assembly necessitates an interim election. Voting is compulsory for all citizens aged eighteen and above, and nonvoters are subject to legal penalties.

    The 300 members of the Assembly are elected from fifty-six local constituencies, which are represented by from one to thirtytwo seats according to their population. Candidates are elected under a unique "reinforced" proportional representation system. Since the 1974 election, 288 members of the Assembly have been chosen directly on the basis of constituency votes; these members must belong to a particular constituency and must compete for election. The remaining twelve seats are occupied by "national deputies," elected at large from party lists in proportion to the popular vote the parties receive. These deputies thus represent the entire country. Their position in the Assembly is largely honorary, although they have all the same functions as directly elected members.

    In one form or another, the reinforced proportional representation system has been in force in national parliamentary elections for over forty years. The formula under which the October 1993 election was held was the product of the seventeenth revision of the electoral system since the 1920s. Virtually every Greek government has modified the prevailing electoral scheme to optimize its own prospects in forthcoming elections.

    Not surprisingly, the electoral system that results from this process is consistently biased in favor of larger parties. The ostensible justification for such a distortion is that the imbalance helps to preserve stable party politics and, more important, stable one-party governments.

    A parliamentary majority can be achieved and a government formed even if the winning party fails to secure a simple majority of the popular vote. This outcome is made possible by awarding extra representation (essentially a bonus) to the larger parties that obtain more than a minimum percentage of the national vote. The various reinforced systems applied since the 1920s vary only in the relative advantage that each version has bestowed upon the top two or three parties.

    The electoral system of the mid-1990s, under which PASOK won the October 1993 election, illustrates these points. The 47 percent of the popular vote obtained by PASOK thus resulted in that party's gaining 57 percent of the seats in the Assembly. In 1990 the incoming ND party anticipated that the next election would continue its plurality with a reduced margin over the second party (PASOK). Therefore, Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis increased the bonus of the largest party (and, under some circumstances, of the third-ranking party, as well) at the expense of the second-ranking party. The new electoral system also stipulated that a party would need at least 3 percent of the national vote to gain parliamentary representation. As it turned out, ND fell victim to its own miscalculations when PASOK outpolled ND by 7.6 percent in 1993. Thus, Mitsotakis's change gave PASOK a substantial working margin in the Assembly when PASOK's 47 percent of the vote yielded the party 170 seats in the Assembly to ND's 111. By contrast, the previous version of reinforced representation had yielded ND only 150 seats in 1990 after it received exactly the same 47 percent share of the popular vote. Already in mid-1994, PASOK was considering another modification of the formula.

    The reinforced proportional representation system has always been opposed by small parties, especially those on the left, to whom reinforcement had been an exclusionist instrument that minimized representation between the 1950s and the 1970s. Beginning in the 1950s, one of the principal demands of the left in Greece has been the adoption of a straight proportional representation system that would reflect the popular will more accurately in the Assembly (see Political Developments , this ch.).

    As the fear of communism receded in the 1980s and 1990s, PASOK and ND reached a de facto consensus in favor of a system that would make representation more in proportion to the ballots cast but still would significantly favor the largest parties. In the 1990s, the principle of reinforced proportional representation appears to be a less urgent issue than it was in the 1980s. Since the return of civilian elections in 1974, the electoral system has provided relative political stability; of the eight national parliamentary elections held since that time, only the two held in 1989 failed, despite reinforcement, to produce a one-party majority government in the Assembly.

    Another electoral issue is whether the parliamentary candidates on a party's list should be nominated according to the preference of voters or according to a ranking determined by party leaders. Although it allows more direct public control of election results, the preference vote system is seen as undermining party discipline and enabling locally influential politicians to buy votes through the maintenance of patron-client networks. The existing election law calls for the preference vote, but in 1994 the leaders of both the major parties leaned toward strengthening discipline in their respective parties by installing a system based on the rank list.

    Data as of December 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece The Electoral System information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece The Electoral System should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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