Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou, announced that his country will hold a referendum on the new EU aid package, sparking fierce debate on both its aims and constitutional context. Some facts about the referendum are following below.
Voting topic: according to the Prime Minister, the matter in hand is the bailout deal reached at the October 26-27 EU summit in Brussels. That’s the main concept though, as there are no details available about the actual content of the agreement yet. On top of that, it’s crucial whether this agreement -along with the aid package- will be submitted for parliamentary approval prior to public voting.
Conduct: Interior Minister Haris Kastanides, told the media that the loan agreement will be finalized by mid-November to early December. Since the Presidential Decree has been issued for referendum, it takes 30 days for the ballot. Thus it’s most likely to take place around mid to late January 2012.
Constitutional and Legal Framework: It‘s the first referendum in Greece since 1974 when a a yes/no plebiscite was hold for a matter of national significance – the form of government. Apparently the public lacks the experience, at least after regime change, for such procedures. However under the revised Greek Constitution, referenda are of two kinds: one that refers to matters of “crucial national importance” requiring the approval of 151 out of 300 MPs and another, when a bill needs 180 votes to pass.
Under article 44 - paragraph 2 of the Constitution
- The President of the Republic shall by decree proclaim a referendum on crucial national matters following a resolution voted by an absolute majority of the total number of Members of Parliament, taken upon proposal of the Cabinet.
- A referendum on Bills passed by Parliament regulating important social matters, with the exception of the fiscal ones shall be proclaimed by decree by the President of the Republic, if this is decided by three-fifths of the total number of its members, following a proposal of two-fifths (180 MPs) of the total number of its members, and as the Standing Orders and the law for the application of the present paragraph provide. No more than two proposals to hold a referendum on a Bill can be introduced in the same parliamentary term.
Under the law, the referendum is announced within one month of receiving the decision by the Parliament. Results are considered valid; when 40% of registered voters turn out in case of “crucial national matters”, while 50% of the electorate will do for legislative issues.
Seven referendums have taken place since the establishment of the Greek State, all of them within 54 years. Almost six of them were related with the form of government (constitutional monarchy vs parliamentary democracy) and one for adopting the Constitution. Three out of seven were conducted under dictatorship, according to the Athens News Agency.