The transnational side of politics in general has not been extensively explored, but a recent study makes reference to the representation of the diaspora by homeland political institutions in relation to the right to vote.
- Steve Bakalis *
Greece is a case in point as the recent announcement of the elections to be held on May 21 has put all political parties on pre-election alert, including branches of the Greek diaspora, as recent legislation provides members of the Greek diaspora who meet the necessary conditions to vote from their place of residence abroad.The law provides for three state MPs to be elected by the Greek diaspora on the state ballot, propelling the emergence of diaspora political entrepreneurs and the activation of efforts by transnational branches to represent the emigrants and win them over as voters.
But that effort fell flat on its face to the dismay of officials who estimated that some 300,000 eligible citizens living outside the country should have a say in the upcoming election. Indeed, the number of Greeks living abroad who are planning to vote in the general election on May 21 had not even reached 29,000 by Tuesday’s registration deadline. The explanation for this has been attributed to the strict registration criteria imposed by the Greek Parliament and the complexity of the online application, rather than diaspora indifference. But this is a convenient explanation for proponents of the legislation, and there is a need for a comprehensive analysis based on the relevant data.
Specifically, they create thorny issues rooted in the so-called principal-agent through the exposure to complicit political parties (and politicians) in the homeland which fall short of the standards expected by politicians in nations that function as full democracies which host the majority of the Greek diaspora. If Greek politicians (the agent) have failed to date to represent the principal (the people), then we should not expect by extension this to be different in the relationship between the three state MPs (the agents) to be elected by a minuscule number of eligible voters and the mainstream Greek diaspora.
For example, the eligible voters of the Greek diaspora should not be its voice in any way, shape, or form, and the transnational branches of Greek political parties should never pretend to represent its interests on the pretense of a democratic process.
All these efforts throughout time have not only failed to meet the aspirations of the modern diaspora, but have created problems and distortions along the way
This development should also cause concern as yet another initiative to bring Greece closer to the diaspora does not seem to bring the desired result, as was the case previously with the Council of Hellenism Abroad, which was established as a body for diaspora cooperation and dialogue with the Greek state, in order to express the wishes and aspirations of the Greeks in the diaspora and to propose solutions to their problems.
All these efforts throughout time have not only failed to meet the aspirations of the modern diaspora, but have created problems and distortions along the way in embracing and inspiring the Geek diaspora as a whole.
Finally, if we backtrack we will learn from the role of Greek kinship networks during the 19th century, when consortia of financiers who wished to invest in Greece were based on informal networking, with the Greek diaspora playing a cohesive role (Bitros and Minoglou, 2004). Diaspora financiers through their informal network arrangements interlocked with elite Western banks, extending the Greek kinship networks to also include philhellenes in a strategic way, thus raising in collaboration with them much needed substantial long-term capital for the Greek government. Another historical contribution of the Greek diaspora was associated with its role of an initiator/instigator for the spread of optimally adjusted institutions in business operations, since the state was weak and the supply of local entrepreneurship was limited. The diaspora’s role was also to act as a “third” party and substitute the state in supplementing the market system with rules, enforcement mechanisms and institutional change.
This has been lost today and ought to be the focus of diaspora policy today taking into account contemporary issues.
- Steve Bakalis is an academic and economist
- The article is also published by ekatkimerini