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article imageParliament to elect Greece's first woman president

By Chantal VALERY, John HADOULIS (AFP)     Jan 22, 2020 in World

A trailblazing judge with particular expertise in environmental law and the constitution will become Greece's first female president on Wednesday.

The candidacy of Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou has already won cross-party support and been welcomed by some commentators as a consensus candidate during a difficult time for Greek foreign policy.

"The time has come for Greece to open up to the future," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said earlier this month, as he submitted Sakellaropoulou's name for Wednesday's parliamentary vote.

A four-decade justice veteran, 63-year-old Sakellaropoulou has since 2018 headed Greece's top administrative court, the Council of State, where she was again the first woman to occupy the post.

The daughter of a Supreme Court judge, Sakellaropoulou completed postgraduate studies at Paris's Sorbonne university and is an expert in constitutional and environmental law.

She will take over from Prokopis Pavlopoulos, whose five-year term ends in March.

Greek presidents are exclusively selected by parliament. Sakellaropoulou is on track to secure over 260 votes on Wednesday, more than enough for the minimum 200 votes required, thanks to support from the main opposition parties.

Main opposition leftist leader Alexis Tsipras said Sakellaropoulou was an "exceptional judge" and a defender of human rights. The socialist KINAL party has also backed her nomination.

Mitsotakis emphasised that the selection breaks with tradition not only because Sakellaropoulou is female, but also because she is not a member of a political party.

Past presidents have often been senior party figures, such as former ministers.

- 'A spirit of consensus' -

Mitsotakis said the choice "embodies unity and progress".

"Let's not hide from the truth, Greek society is still marked by discrimination against women," the PM said. "This now changes, starting from the top."

In accepting the nomination, Sakellaropoulou said it was an "honour for justice and modern Greek women".

Although the president is nominally the head of the Greek state and commander-in-chief, the post is largely ceremonial.

Greek presidents confirm governments and laws and technically have the power to declare war, but only in conjunction with the government.

Liberal daily Kathimerini commentator Elias Maglinis welcomed the decision to nominate Sakellaropoulou.

It had, he wrote, "brought about a spirit of consensus, which is absolutely necessary during such a crucial time in foreign policy" referring to ongoing tension with Turkey over energy exploration, Aegean territorial rights and migration.

When Mitsotakis became prime minister in July, he was criticised for appointing just a handful of women in his cabinet.

A 2017 Eurobarometer poll found 63 percent of Greeks thought gender equality had been achieved in politics, 69 percent at work and 61 percent in leadership positions.

But Eurostat figures from the same year show a pay gap between men and women in Greece of more than 12 percent in average gross hourly earnings.

Unemployment is also higher among women, with one in five jobless according to the latest official figures.

The first women won the right to vote in Greece in 1934, even if it was initially limited to educated women aged 30 and over.

The first female MP, Eleni Skoura, was elected in 1953. Lina Tsaldari in 1956 became the first female minister, and Anna Psarouda Benaki the first female head of parliament in 2004.

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