Jailed leader of Greek far-right party faces election ban

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, file photo, lawmaker of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party Ilias Kasidiaris, center, is escorted by anti-terror police to a court for a preliminary hearing into charges of participating in a criminal organization in Athens. Greece's government is seeking to ban a far-right political party led by the jailed former lawmaker from participating in a general election later this year, with a legislative initiative that has gained cross party support. Ilias Kasidiaris, 42, founded the Greek National Party two years ago. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)

ATHENS – Greece’s government is seeking to ban a far-right political party led by a jailed former lawmaker from participating in a general election later this year, with a legislative initiative that has gained cross-party support.

Ilias Kasidiaris, 42, founded the Greek National Party two years ago. He is currently serving a sentence of 13 years and six months in prison for membership in a criminal organization as a former leading member of Golden Dawn, a political party of neo-Nazi origins linked to multiple violent street attacks.

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Parliament on Friday published a proposed legal amendment that would disqualify Kasidiaris’ party from election participation on the grounds that its leader has been convicted of serious offences and that the party wouldn't “serve the free functioning of (Greece’s) democratic constitution.”

Lawmakers are due to vote on the amendment on Tuesday.

Opposition parties are supportive of the ban, but the Greek Communist Party described the criteria in the amendment as being too broad and open to abuse for political purposes.

Golden Dawn was represented in parliament between 2012 and 2019 following four consecutive elections held during a major financial crisis.

In 2020, a court jailed Kasidiaris and other members of the party’s leadership for heading a criminal organization that waged a campaign of violence against migrants and ideological opponents.

“Democracies have a moral obligation to guard against their enemies,” center-right Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told members of his Cabinet on Thursday.

“They cannot legitimize and certainly cannot fund organizations that openly work to undermine them.”

Before a general election expected in April, opinion polls suggest the Greek National Party would cross the 3% threshold of the national vote needed to gain parliamentary representation.

In a phone message from a prison in central Greece that was posted online, Kasidiaris called the legal amendment “undemocratic.”