Busybodyism and democracy

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If the last-minute amendments to the government’s omnibus bill on Thursday were really that urgent, then why discuss them in Parliament at all? The provisions might as well have been included in a decree so as to avoid the 10 minutes of inconvenience (this is how long the debate lasted) that the plenary dedicated to these two substantial measures. 

Even worse than the conservative government’s decision to submit the amendments just minutes before MPs were to vote, was the excuse given by Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis. While he was being applauded by New Democracy lawmakers, the minister said that “the two amendments are important, crucial and positive for workers, for pensioners, for the Greece that we want to see on the day after, because Greece cannot wait. We cannot waste time in the face of sclerotic mind-sets and ideological fixations and remain stagnant and mired in a past that has traumatized Greece.” 

The awful truth is that dictatorial regimes also invoke some kind of national emergency when they seek to sidestep parliamentary procedure. They refer to the country “that cannot wait,” the gains of workers and pensioners, the foot-dragging and the political obsessions of the “old political system,” which is, they say, incapable of solving big problems fast. 

The thing is that democracy is time-consuming, regardless whether Greece – or any other country for that matter – “cannot wait.” Often there is foot-dragging too. A filibuster is a familiar strategy used in the United States to block or delay Senate action on a bill by debating it at length. In 2018, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi famously commandeered the House floor for eight hours and seven minutes in order to block the introduction of an anti-immigration law. This tactic, which dates back to ancient Rome, has been employed in the parliaments in Britain, France, Canada and even Iran, when it still had an assembly. Meanwhile, the inflexible frameworks and the political fixations are, unfortunately, part of the game. Because they are part of society. There is no commonly accepted map that can be used to separate the chaff of inflexibility from the wheat of progress. If there was, there would be no need for Parliament and decisions would be made by machines.

This is why ideological fixations are better fought using political means, not with SYRIZA-style acrobatics that harm Parliament and democracy itself.

The busybodyism of the Greece-cannot-wait sort is a risk to good parliamentary practice and shows a lack of respect for democratic principles. It also contains an element of arrogance as reflected in the “how-dare-YOU-speak” accusation leveled against SYRIZA. 

This was not an insult to the opposition, but rather to the voters of New Democracy, or at least those people who turned their backs on SYRIZA for everything it did.

Published in eKathimerini.com 11.8.2019