ATHENS — Greek MPs elected the country’s first female president, appointing the country’s top judge Katerina Sakellaropoulou as head of state.
In a rare act of unity in the usually turbulent and divisive Greek politics, the nomination by conservative ruling New Democracy was supported by both the main opposition left-wing Syriza and Socialists party. Sakellaropoulou won 261 votes, well over the 200 needed in Greece’s 300-seat parliament to be elected from the first ballot.
“I assure the parliament and all Greeks that I will use all my strength to fulfill my constitutional role,” Sakellaropoulou said in a speech after her election. “Establishing a climate of calm, security and trust among all of society, economic growth, the reversal of the youth’s flight abroad and the protection of the weak, are priorities.”
She also listed climate change; the mass displacement of people and the ensuing humanitarian crisis; the decline of the rule of law; and inequality as international challenges that extend beyond Greece’s borders and require cooperation among governments.
Sakellaropoulou, 64, has served as president of the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, for the last 15 months. She was the first woman to serve in that role after she was proposed for the job by the previous Syriza government.
She comes from northern Greece and studied law at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, before completing her postgraduate studies in public law at the University of Paris II.
The progressive judge is known for her sensitivity to minorities’ rights, civil liberties and refugee issues, which prompted Syriza to select her for the position of the country’s top judge. She has particular expertise in environmental law and has written numerous papers on environmental protection, while also chairing a society on environmental law.
The Greek president holds a largely ceremonial position, but Sakellaropoulou’s election is a landmark, as Greece has a very poor track record of promoting women to senior positions in government and broader society.
“Congratulations to Aikaterini Sakellaropoulou, the first female president of the Hellenic Republic elected with a very large majority today in the Hellenic Parliament,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, shortly after the vote. “Greece is moving ahead into a new era of equality.”
The conservative New Democracy government, which came to power in July, was criticized for having only five women in the 51-member Cabinet, and only one out of the 18 senior positions is held by a woman.
Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ decision to nominate Sakellaropoulou was a surprise. It signifies “Greece’s progression into a new era, it is a personality that unites,” Mitsotakis told reporters after the vote. “I’m happy we can agree on the big issues.”
Sakellaropoulou described her nomination for a five-year term as “honoring both justice and the modern Greek woman.”
She will succeed President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a 69-year-old veteran conservative politician and academic, when his term is completed March 13.