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Dimitris Sioufas elected new President of Parliament

28/09/2007 15:16
Dimitris Sioufas of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party was elected president of the 300-member unicameral Hellenic Parliament on Thursday with 158 votes for and 141 blank votes, while only one MP was absent. In a statement immediately after the result was announced, Sioufas pledged to be a "President of all Parliament, all the wings, all the deputies".

An MP from Karditsa who served as development minister under the previous government, Sioufas was the candidate nominated by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis for the parliament presidency.

Outlining his plans during his term in the third-highest office in Greece after the President of the Republic and the prime minister, Sioufas said he intended to introduce changes to Parliament regulations that would allow visiting heads of state and government and other distinguished foreigners to directly address the Greek Parliament.

He also outlined plans to further upgrade the annual Youth Parliament and to begin planning for the creation of a new and modern Parliament building equipped with necessary infrastructure at another location.

The former minister also emphasised the Parliamentary diplomacy would be among his priorities and referred to the destruction wrought by the mega-fires that swept Greece in August, saying that the "Parliament of the Hellenes will be creatively present" in efforts for the recovery of these areas.

There followed a hand-over ceremony, in which Sioufas took over from his predecessor Anna Psarouda-Benaki and stressed that, in doing so, he became "even more aware of the magnitude of my responsibilities and my mission".

"I wish to give the same assurances that I gave before the 300 MPs in Parliament that I will make every effort to live up to the trust that they placed in me, to meet the obligations that Parliament has both internally but also in Greek society, [to meet] the expectations of the citizens, because the Parliament is the centre, the nucleus of our democratic system and we must bring the centre of politics back here in Parliament," he said.

Psarouda-Benakis, on her part, expressed her satisfaction that the office of Parliament president was going to a "personality with extensive Parliamentary and political experience".

Greece's new parliament, which emerged from the September 16 general elections and was sworn in on Wednesday, convened shortly before noon on Thursday to elect the House's new president in a secret ballot.

Of the 299 MPs present, 158 voted for Sioufas, 141 cast blank ballots, while Communist Party of Greece (KKE) deputy for Lesvos St. Skopelitis was absent from the proceedings.

The parliament plenary will convene again at 6:00 Thursday afternoon to elect the House's five parliamentary vice-presidents, which are distributed among the three top parties, with the first three parliamentary vice-presidential positions going to the ruling ND party, the fourth position going to main opposition PASOK and the fifth going to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

On Friday, a three-day debate on the new government's policy statements begins, to be read out by Prime Minister Karamanlis, with the discussions ending at midnight Sunday, followed by a vote of confidence for the new government.

Dimitris Sioufas, a lawyer, was born in 1944 in Ellinopyrgos, Karditsa prefecture. He was first elected to parliament in 1981, and served as deputy minister of Health, Welfare and Social Insurance in the New Democracy government of Constantine Mitsotakis from August 1991 to October 1993.

In April 2000 he was elected Secretary of the ND Parliamentary Group (up to the March 2004 general elections), nominated by the then main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Karamanlis.

With ND's assumption of the government after the March 2004 elections, he was appointed Development minister, serving in the post from March 2004 to September 2007, just ahead of the latest general elections in which ND was re-elected to power.

In August 2007, he was awarded the Medal of Friendship of the Russian Federation by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Since the Constitution of 1975 came into effect, those serving as parliament president were Constantine Papaconstantinou, Dimitris Papaspyrou, Ioannis Alevras, Athanasios Tsaldaris, Apostolos Kaklamanis, and Anna Psarouda-Benaki.