Far-right party banned from upcoming election in Greece

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FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, file photo, Iias Kasidiaris, former Golden Dawn lawmaker who had been found guilty along with others of leading a criminal organization and face 13 years in prison, looks on during a Golden Dawn trial, 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/Petros Giannakouris, File)

ATHENS – Greece’s parliament has banned a far-right political party led by a jailed former lawmaker from participating in the general election later this year.

Parliament published the text of a legislative amendment Thursday that will disqualify the Greek National Party on the grounds that its leader has been convicted of a serious criminal offense. Lawmakers approved the amendment late Wednesday.

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Ilias Kasidiaris, who founded the breakaway party two years ago, is serving 13-year prison sentence for membership in and being a former leading member of Golden Dawn, a political party of neo-Nazi origins.

A court in 2020 designated Golden Dawn as a criminal organization for waging a campaign of violence against migrants and ideological opponents. Kasidiaris and other members of the Golden Dawn leadership were jailed as a result of the ruling.

Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos told state-run television Thursday that banning the Greek National Party was appropriate.

“The Government did the right thing by responding to a demand from a vast majority of Greek citizens: to exclude a party led by a convicted member of a criminal organization.”

Elections are expected in April with the governing center-right New Democracy party leading but unlikely to gain an outright majority, opinion polls suggest. The likely stalemate is expected to trigger a repeat election the following month, when a new election law takes effect.

Recent polls suggest the Greek National Party would cross the threshold of 3% of the national vote needed to gain parliamentary representation.

The party on Thursday described the vote in parliament as a violation of the constitution and voters' rights, and vowed to set up its own unofficial ballot boxes on election day.

Golden Dawn — a party that held torch-lit rallies and included senior members who openly backed violence against migrants — was represented in parliament between 2012 and 2019 following four consecutive elections held during a major financial crisis.

During Wednesday's debate, lawmakers from the Greek Communist Party said they opposed the amendment, arguing that it could be misused to ban political activism in general.

A small right-wing opposition party in parliament, Hellenic Solution, also opposed the legislative initiative, describing it as unconstitutional.