ATHENS — Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou proposed Monday that Parliament amend Greece's constitution to reduce the powers of the president and increase those of the prime minister.
The bold move to diminish the office of the president, which many Greeks see as a stabilizing influence on the prime minister, came after Papandreou had precipitated a crisis over the weekend by refusing to support President Constantine Karamanlis' bid for reelection.
Karamanlis, who was a candidate for a second term, promptly resigned, and some political commentators expressed fear that the Socialist prime minister might eventually bring down the entire constitutional structure of Greek government.
Karamanlis, who is staunchly pro-Western, was seen by a majority of Greeks as an important factor in preventing Papandreou from carrying out his threats to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Economic Community, and to force the United States out of its military bases in Greece.
Papandreou himself said after Karamanlis' resignation that the president, who led Greece back to democracy and back into NATO's military wing after the country's military dictatorship was deposed in 1974, "has fulfilled his duties in an impeccable manner."
A Lengthy Process
Technically, the prime minister and his party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, have merely begun a lengthy process of constitutional change. Constitutional reforms must be approved by three-fifths of Parliament in two separate votes, scheduled at least a month apart. The changes must then be endorsed by the next elected Parliament.
Parliamentary sources said the prime minister's amendments would strip the president of his powers to dissolve Parliament, to veto legislation and to call referendums. Karamanlis never exercised those powers.
The decision to dump the 78-year-old president, who is Greece's elder statesman, came after strong hints--a pledge, according to Karamanlis--that Papandreou would support him for reelection. Karamanlis' term was to expire next Sunday, and he expected Parliament to elect him to a second term.
After resigning, Karamanlis said that Papandreou and Constantine Mitsotakis, leader of the conservative opposition New Democracy Party, had both asked him to run for reelection. He said they "considered it necessary for the smooth development of our political life and the nation's unity."
Apparently aware of Papandreou's plan to reduce the president's powers, Karamanlis said in his resignation letter that he was "resigning the remainder of my term, in view of developments outlined that I cannot cooperate in."
Fears of a further assault on the constitution if Papandreou succeeds in the amendment process were aroused when legal observers noted that among the articles Papandreou would alter is one that defines the amendment process itself. One commentator said Papandreou will propose to open the constitution to any amendment Parliament wishes by simple majority vote.
The likelihood of a new Parliament's being elected soon, perhaps as early as May, is thought to have been strengthened by Papandreou's blunt and bold challenge to the right in turning his back on Karamanlis.
Voting for a new president will begin in Parliament on Sunday, but to win a candidate must have a two-thirds majority on the first or second ballot.
It is considered certain that the issue will not be settled immediately. The opposition New Democracy Party has 112 of the 300 seats, and its votes alone will block Papandreou's candidate, Christos Sartzetakis, a Supreme Court justice and known supporter of Papandreou's party. A third ballot requiring a three-fifths majority will follow, but Sartzetakis may fall short of the needed votes.