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Katerina Sakellaropoulou: High court judge becomes Greece's first female president

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Katerina Sakellaropoulou speaks as the head of the Council of State head in Athens in 2018.
Katerina Sakellaropoulou speaks as the head of the Council of State head in Athens in 2018.   -   Copyright  Dimitris Kapadais/InTime News via AP   -   Dimitris Kapadais
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High court judge, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, has become Greece's first female president, after a vote in Parliament on Wednesday.

Two opposition parties sided with the centre-right government's nomination to give Sakellaropoulou 261 votes, way more than the 200 needed.

Centre-left opposition parties had already backed Sakellaropoulou's nomination before Wednesday's vote.

She will take up a five-year term in the largely ceremonial post in March.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Sakellaropoulou was an "exceptional judge" and a defender of human rights.

Symbolic power

Aristides Hatzis is Professor of Law at the University of Athens. He says she'll be a positive force in Greek politics.

"She's a great judge, an excellent consensus builder, she's liberal in the broadest sense of the word, and she's not partisan. This is very important for Greek politics. Most importantly, she's a generous person, she's empathetic, she very perceptive."

As President, Sakellaropoulou will represent the Hellenic Republic and what she lacks in veto power, she makes up for in symbolic power, Professor Hatzis says. "The president, if she wants, can inflict serious damage on the government if she decides to criticise a policy or an approach."

Greece has a historically low level of female representation in high-level politics, and all but one of the 18 senior positions held by men before Wednesday.

As well as serving as an important role model for Greek women and girls, Hatzis says Sakellaropoulou will unite the country's polarised political systems:

"She's going to be supported by almost 90 percent of Greek MPs. This is unprecedented unanimity for Greece's political system. First female president, broad political consensus, this is a moment of historical significance for Greece."

Constitutional and environmental law

A French-educated expert in constitutional and environmental law, Sakellaropoulou previously served as president of the Council of State, a top administrative court in Greece, since October 2018.

She will succeed the veteran conservative politician and academic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, when his five-year term ends in March.

To listen to the full interview with Professor Aristedis Hatzis, click on the media player above