THE CRISIS OF PARLIAMENTARISM (1915 - 1974)
The confrontation between Eleftherios Venizelos (picture left) and King Constantine (picture right) proved to be the apex of the occasional tensions between the Crown and Parliamentary majorities up to that point. King Constantine dissolved the Parliament twice in 1915, a fact which deepened the conflict between the two parties irrevocably.
A. The adventures of parliamentarism in the inter-War period
The defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor put an end to the pursuit of the so-called "Great Idea" i.e. the vision of extending the frontiers of Greece to their historical limits, and an opportunity to the various social and political parties to focus on the task of the interior reorganisation of the Country. However, the conflict between the followers and the opponents of Venizelos persisted, even after the military coup of 1922, despite the fact that it did not reflect any deeper social antitheses serious enough to explain the bitterness with which the political rivalries were fought out at the time.
The economic crisis toward the end of the 1920's came to exacerbate an already difficult social situation, which was the result of the military adventures of the years 1912-1922 and the effort to take care of 1.5 million refugees. These circumstances created the need for the State to intervene in almost all the areas of social life; in turn, this necessitated a corresponding constitutional framework that would allow for the necessary interventionist policies to develop within the limits set by the principles of the "rule of law".
The Constitution of 1927 proved inefficient in this respect, as it was still too much tied-up to the extreme liberal ideas of the previous century. This led further to repeated transgressions of the constitutional provisions. The transgressions took the form either of autonomous legislative interventions by the executive, or of extremely wide delegations of legislative powers by Parliament to the Executive, a fact that weakened the role of Parliament in the exercise of its legislative tasks.
The Constitution of 1927 introduced a system of two legislative bodies : Parliament was elected by means of a direct, universal and secret ballot for a term of 4 years; the number of members of Parliament could not be less than 200 or over 250. The Senate was composed of 120 members of which 90 at least were directly elected by the people and a maximum of 10 (the so-called "honorary" senators) were elected by Parliament and Senate in a joint session.
Whenever Parliament and the Senate disagreed on voting a Bill Through, the Constitution provided that the Parliament's decision prevailed.
What was by far the most important element of the new Constitution however, was the explicit introduction of the parliamentary system of government. For the first time a Greek Constitution included a provision - afterwards to be repeated by all subsequent Constitutions - that the Cabinet had "to enjoy the confidence of the Parliament". How Parliament granted or removed its confidence was a matter taken up in detail in many other constitutional provisions.
The Constitution of 1927 had a life of just 8 years. democratic institutions bwcame the focuw of a fierce political struggle, the survivors of which were the extremists of the two major political parties. Therefollowed the dictatorship of the 4rth August (1936), profiting from the favorable circumstances existing in Europe for authoritarian solutions. However, the deeper causes for the sucess of dictatorship have to be sought at the level of pervasive social antagonisms , on the one hand, and of the survival of national discord on the other, which weakened the legitimizing function of parliamentary institutions.
B. The tumultuous post-war period
In the period after World War II, our parliamentary life did not manage to free itself from a number of pathological phenomena, which proved remarkably persistent, despite the significant changes that had occurred in Europe and in the country itself. The traditional polarity between Venizelist and Anti-Venizelists was perlaced by the polarities created by the civil war of 1946-1949. The first past-war elections of 1946, in which the Left decided not to participate, were supposed to produce a Revisionary Parliament which, however, never completed its task to revise the Constitution. Finally, after an adventurous period that saw the dissolution of another Parliament, the Costitution of the 1st of January 1952 was voted. It was a text that contained few innovations compared to the constitutional texts of 1864/1991 and 1927, and bore the influence of the atmosphere that had prevailed then.
According to the Costitution of 1952, the number of Members of Parliament should not be under 150 but neither should it exceed the 300 mark. An interpretative clause at article 70 allowed for the right to vote and the right to be elected to be extended to women as well.
As far as the powers of the King were concerned, the constitutional text of 1952 remained faithful to the letter of the Constitution of 1864. The only novel element was that it explicity proclaimed that the country was a Kingdom with a democratic government.
An equal lack of inovative imagination was displayed in the articles referring to the Parliament, with the exception perhaps of the provisions of article 35 par. 2. According to these, in order to regulate matters of extreme urgency while Parliament was absent or in recess, the Executive was empowered, pursuant an opinion of a special parliamentary committee, to issue legislative decrees that did not need ratification by the Parliament.
The political crisis that burst out in the summer of 1965 brought once more to the fore some critical issues referring to the functioning of parliamentarism; the King once more confronted the majority in Parliament which belonged to the Union of the Centre political party.While the Country was heading toward the elections set for the 28th of May 1967, the military coup of the 21rst of April inaugurated a period of dictatorial rule that lasted for seven years.
(c) 1996 Macedonian Press Agency