Greece lingers in limbo in the run-up to its July 5th referendum on
Europe, ordinary citizens are still struggling to understand exactly
what they are voting for. Economic paralysis prevails and political and
social polarization is mounting. With only a week to organize the
vote, the entire legitimacy of the plebiscite is at stake. Fundamental
questions remain unanswered. In particular, whether it complies with
European and international standards and potentially violates the Greek
By using a previous deal with Europe which
no longer exists as a point of reference, the referendum is amounting
to an exercise in semantics. It begs the question whether the
technocratic, convoluted 72-word vote was intentionally manipulated to
be practically incomprehensible in favor of the “no” vote.
referendum also falls short of standards according to the Council of
Europe, the 47-member regional intergovernmental organization which
focuses on human rights, democratic development and the rule of law.
Its non-binding guidelines recommend disclosing the referendum’s
question at least two weeks before the poll. This provides voters ample
time to grasp issues and for the Council to send monitors. Accordingly,
the one-week notice confounds voters and the Council will not have
officials present in Greece.
The hastily arranged
referendum will also deprive thousands of Greeks of their fundamental
democratic right to vote. Many urban Greeks are still registered in
their communities of origin where they are required to cast their
ballots. These are often remote and not easily accessible locations
which require time and money to reach. With banks shut and limited time
to plan journeys, thousands will be unable to vote. Therefore, the
considerable reduction in voter participation could potentially favor
the “no” vote.
There is also the Alexis Tsipras factor
to take into account. The prime minister is clearly the
advocate-in-chief of the “no” vote. His charisma, effective
communication skills and preaching from the bully-pulpit offer enormous
political advantages. However, he is also unduly influencing the
referendum process through a frontal assault on the airwaves. He is
trying to create a state of security where none exists. His
self-assuring narrative can be summarized in a nutshell: vote “no”, give
me a mandate, I will quickly deliver a deal with Europe and the banks
will immediately open thereafter. There is absolutely no certainty to
this story line. In fact, the opposite could actually materialize.
Since assuming power in January 2015, Tsipras has overpromised and
under-delivered. Overall, he has made a bad situation even worse.
his divisive rhetoric, Tsipras is actively engaged in fear-mongering
against the “yes” vote. According to his account, it will amount to
slavery for Greece. The reality is that Greece has no easy way out. It
is a matter of choosing the least worst of options. Regardless of a
recent IMF report confirming that Greece needs comprehensive debt relief
and more than $66.6 billion in new aid to return to financial health, a
“no” vote would still produce no advantages for Tsipras in negotiations
Although most polls point to over 70
percent support for staying in the euro, it may not translate into the
referendum’s outcome. Due to the vote’s technical and procedural
shortcomings, the result remains somewhat unpredictable. Furthermore,
fear of Grexit and its contagion effect may already be spilling over
into neighbors, particularly Italy. Its own populist parties are
jumping on the anti-Euro bandwagon and threaten to undermine whatever
modest economic progress Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has achieved.
observing the entire referendum process unfold, it smacks of ancient
Greek comedy. However, when considering what’s at stake for ordinary
Greek citizens, and the rest of Europe, it clearly amounts to classic
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