The Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων; transliterated Vouli (also Boule) ton Ellinon; literally 'Will of the Greeks', from the ancient Greek verb βούλομαι, boulomai, to will; Latin: volo) is the Parliament of Greece, located in the Parliament House, overlooking Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece. It is a unicameral legislature of 300 members, elected for a four-year term.
Although during the Greek Revolution a number of National Assemblies had been held, the first national parliament of the independent Greek state was established only in 1843, after the September 3rd Revolution, which forced King Otto to grant a constitution. In 1911, a revision of the constitution resulted in stronger human rights, the reinforcement of the Rule of Law and the modernization of institutions, among them the parliament. After seven years of military dictatorship, on December 8 1974, a referendum was conducted to decide about the nature of the form of government. By a majority of 69.18%, the Greeks decided against a constitutional monarchy and for a parliamentary republic.
The Greek Parliament has 300 members, elected for a four-year term by a system of reinforced proportional representation in 48 multi-seat constituencies, 8 single-seat constituencies and a single nationwide list. 288 of the 300 seats are determined by constituency voting, and voters may select the candidate or candidates of their choice by marking their name on the party ballot. The remaining 12 seats are filled from nationwide party lists on a top-down basis and based on the proportion of the total vote each party received. Eligible for deputies are Greek citizens aged 25 or over on the date of the election, who are eligible to vote. With the sole exception of university professors, citizens who are public servants are disqualified from submitting their candidacies, unless they irrevocably resign their office before promulgation.
Members of Parliament are immune from criminal prosecution, arrest or detention while in office. They are also immune from having to provide any information to any authority regarding their legislative functions and deliberations. They are not immune from civil suits. Alleged crimes committed in the member's official capacity (e.g. embezzlement of public monies) may be adjudicated only after Parliament impeaches the member. Government ministers who are not members of Parliament are subject to the same procedure. The impeachment trial is held by an ad hoc Special Court. Alleged crimes committed in the member's personal capacity (e.g. homicide) may be adjudicated only after Parliament votes to have the member's immunity suspended, at the request of a prosecuting attorney and only in relation to the particular alleged crime. In such cases, the case is adjudicated by a regular court. The Parliament's permission is not necessary if a member is "caught in the act" of committing a crime (e.g. murder).
The business of parliament is handled by the Presidium (Προεδρείο της Βουλής), which consists of the Speaker, five Deputy Speakers, three Deans and six Secretaries. It is characterised by a tri-partisan composition, meaning that the fourth Deputy Speaker, a dean and a secretary belong to main opposition party, and the fifth Deputy Speaker and a secretary belong to the next largest (by seats) opposition party. A member of the Presidium, who of course must be a parliamentarian, cannot be a member of the Cabinet or an Under-Secretary. While the Speaker of the Parliament and the five Deputy Speakers are elected at the beginning of each term and for the entire duration of that term, the tenure of the Deans and of the Secretaries lasts for the duration of one regular session of the Parliament for which they were elected.
During summer recess, Parliament operates "Teenager Parliament" (Vouli ton Efivon), a series of sessions during which a rotating quota of MPs attends speeches and debates held by high school junior students from Greece, Cyprus, and the Greek Diaspora. The program carries the twin aims of alerting parliamentarians to the needs and perspectives of younger generations, and to educate teenagers in the practice of proper debating and participation in public life. Parliament also hosts official visits and tours for middle- and high-schools throughout the school year.
Parliament regularly organizes exhibitions and retrospectives on various aspects of public life, mainly dealing with aspects of political and parliamentary history.
Parliament administers the "Parliament Foundation", a research and publishing foundation established to produce printed and electronic media, mainly on archival material, historical and scientific matters pertaining to parliamentary functions and the past political and cultural life of Greece.
The current building, a neoclassical three-floor structure designed by Friedrich von Gärtner and completed in 1843, originally served as a palace for the Greek monarchs. After suffering fire damage in 1909, it entered a long period of renovation. Members of the royal family continued to reside there until 1924, when a referendum abolished the monarchy. The building was then used for many different purposes — functioning as a makeshift hospital and a museum, among other things — until November 1929, when the government decided that the building would instead house the Parliament. After more extensive renovations, the Senate convened in the "Old Palace" (Παλαιά Ανάκτορα) on 2 August 1934, followed by the Fifth National Assembly on 1 July 1935. Although the monarchy was restored that same year, the building has housed the Parliament ever since.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Μνημείο του Αγνώστου Στρατιώτη), guarded by the Evzones of the Presidential Guard, is located in the formal forecourt of the building. Construction of the monument began in 1929 and was inaugurated on March 25 1932.
The main Chamber of Parliament, on the ground floor, is amphitheatrical in layout, and is panelled in purple and purple-veined white marble with inlaid gold ornaments. Seating for the MPs is arranged in five circular sectors. The Speaker's Chair, the lectern, the ministerial and state functionary benches, and the stenographers' vault are made of carved wood and are laid out facing the MP seats. A colonnaded balcony surrounds the upper tier of the Chamber and is used as the visitors' gallery. Part of it served as the Royal Box in the past. A vitrail roof provides natural light during daytime.
An almost identical, but smaller-scaled, Chamber was originally built in the second floor for use of the Senate. Since there has not been a Senate for several decades, this Chamber has no official function any more, and is used for party caucuses and other parliamentary or party functions on an ad hoc basis.
The building has two main entrances, the west-facing formal entrance, which faces the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Syntagma Square, and the east-facing business entrance, which faces the National Gardens. Improvements are ongoing, some of them significant (such as the addition of an 800-vehicle underground parking structure), to ensure that the building can continue to function effectively.
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