High court judge and human rights advocate Katerina Sakellaropoulou has been elected Greece’s first female president by parliament on Wednesday.
Sakellaropoulou was nominated by the ruling conservative New Democracy party, but also managed to secure the backing of the main opposition party Syriza and the center-left Movement for Change.
Breaking through gender barriers is not a new thing for the president-elect. She was the first woman to serve as the president of the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court. She held that position for 15 months until Wednesday’s election.
In the parliamentary vote on Wednesday, the 63-year-old received support of 261 MPs in the 300-seat Parliament, way above the 200 required by the constitution.
Following the vote, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the result offers “a window to the future.”
“Our country enters, with more optimism, into a new decade,” he added.
Mitsotakis’s decision to choose Sakellaropoulou was widely seen as a move to counter mounting criticism about the lack of women in his cabinet where only a handful of women hold senior positions.
The country is coming out of a decade-long financial crisis and years of political turmoil. When Mitsotakis announced the nomination, he said change in Greek society “starts from the top… with Greek women receiving the position they deserve.”
Greece has been lagging behind other European countries when it comes to the number of women in senior positions in politics. It scores below the European average in gender equality and was at the very bottom of the gender equality index for 2017 issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality.
Accroding to Eurostat, the pay gap between men and women in Greece was more than 12% in 2017.
A poll by MRB pollsters released Tuesday showed that 55% of respondents saw Sakellaropoulou as a positive choice.
In November 2019, data released by Greek police show that registered incidents of domestic violence increased by 34.45% in the period 2014-2018.
But results of last year’s European and local elections have shown that Greeks are keen to make a full return to mainstream politics after nearly a decade of extreme rhetoric and political turbulence. Sakellaropoulou has been perceived across much of the political spectrum as a consensus choice.
The selection breaks with tradition not only because Sakellaropoulou is a woman, but also because she is not a member of a political party.
According to the MRB poll, close to 62% of those asked also responded positively to the main opposition party’s decision to back the government’s choice.
Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras has described Sakellaropoulou, who is an expert in constitutional and environmental law, as an “exceptional judge” and a defender of human rights.
The president holds a largely ceremonial post in Greece and serves a five-year term. Sakellaropoulou succeeds President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a 69-year-old conservative politician, lawyer and academic.