ATHENS: Beleaguered Greeks headed to the polls Sunday to choose between “being devoured by a lion or a wolf” in a bailout referendum many see as an impossible decision with unknown consequences for their crisis-wracked country.
Voting ‘No’ means rejecting an austerity-heavy bailout deal from Greece’s international creditors. But it could also see the country forced out of the eurozone.
Dimitris Halatsis, a teacher, said it was “a crucial day”. He was voting ‘No’ because “it’s the only chance the government and Greece have to apply pressure” on the creditors.
Michelis, 80, first in through the doors of an elementary school being used for the vote in central Athens, said “if we vote ‘No’ they’ll take us more seriously”, adding that he was voting “for my grandchildren”.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his radical-left Syriza party have urged people to reject a “humiliating” deal from the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But many Greeks are fearful a ‘No’ vote could see a return to the drachma, the currency used in Greece before it adopted the euro in 2001, fuelling a surge in support for the ‘Yes’ camp in recent days.
Theodora, 61, a retired journalist, said she was voting “‘Yes’ to the European Union… A ‘No’ would be the beginning of a dissolution.”
She said the government’s imposition of capital controls this week — which capped ATM withdrawals at 60 euros ($67) a day — had infuriated Greeks.
“I’m more than angry… to queue for 60 euros, not to know what I will have tomorrow. What life is that?” she asked.
A male voter who declined to give his name scoffed that “only an idiot would vote against European unity”.
– Choosing ‘least bad’ option –
In the polling station in a primary school in Athens’s Skoufa street, people were being asked to tick the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response to a complex question on whether or not to accept bailout terms, which are no longer officially on the table.
Police were present at the entrance as Orthodox prayers rang out from a church in front of the school.
There was little enthusiasm for the vote which many Greeks, devastated by five years of austerity, say has hardly any chance of resolving their problems.
Dimitris Kavouklis, 42, said “we’re chosing between two tough and bad solutions. When you have to choose between two bad solutions, you choose the least bad, and that’s clearly ‘Yes’,” he said.
Basil, 56, was also voting ‘Yes’ but blamed Tsipras for calling the referendum at all, insisting it “could have been avoided” — and should have, as it worsened Greece’s negotiating stance with its creditors.
“This is very dangerous for Greece,” he said, adding that the campaign had “boosted divisions”.
Yanis, a voter in his 50s, said he would vote ‘No’ because the heavily-indebted country — which suffers from sky-high unemployment — needed the opportunity and freedom to be able to implement growth measures.
“I think it’s a big chance for a small country like us,” he said, as he posted his vote into the ballot box.
“The euro should never have been introduced into Greece. Everyone wanted the latest iPhone, the most modern car or house,” whereas now Greeks were hoarding money to spend on basic foodstuffs.
In the largely middle-class Pangrati neighbourhood, people from the Communist Party were handing out mock ballots for protest votes.
“It has three Nos — no to the European union, no to Syriza and the government’s proposals, and no to the austerity measures,” said Nikos Leivaditis, 35, voting with the mock ballot.
He insists neither a ‘Yes’ nor a ‘No’ victory will better Greece’s fortunes — a feeling many Greeks share.
“It is like you have the lion and the wolf and you have to decide who is going to devour you,” he said.