Greece votes No
The vote puts a united Europe in peril as the country delivers a clear rebuke to its international creditors.
By Helen Popper
5/7/15, 8:39 PM CET
Updated 5/7/15, 8:56 PM CET
ATHENS — Greeks voted overwhelmingly Sunday to reject demands for spending cuts and economic reforms, a stunning victory for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that may put the debt-crippled country on course to leave the eurozone.
The No campaign was winning about 60 percent of the vote with 40 percent of sites reporting. Opinion polls in the days before voting had shown the two sides virtually neck-and-neck.
The country now faces a long list of political and economic challenges that will test its financial stability and determine its place in Europe.
The question posed to voters Sunday was whether they endorsed the budget cuts, tax increases and economic overhauls that creditors have demanded in exchange for aid. But the stakes of the vote were much larger, becoming a proxy for the country’s place in the euro and even in the European Union.
Tsipras shocked Greece’s creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — by calling the referendum June 27 after months of fruitless negotiations. During the week-long campaign, Tsipras argued that a No vote would give him the leverage to demand a better deal — a claim that many European leaders rejected as fanciful.
But with a stronger-than-expected mandate, Greece’s government pledged to step up efforts to reach a bailout agreement with creditors.
“The initiatives will intensify from this evening (Sunday) onward so that there can be a deal,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said Sunday afternoon on Greek television. He added that the Bank of Greece would also send a request to the ECB requesting an increased emergency euro cash injection for Greece’s depleted banks.
Greek banks could run out of money as early as Tuesday when they reopen. Without the ECB’s support, Greece’s financial sector could collapse. Unable to repay debts, like an upcoming €3.5 billion due to the ECB on July 20, and having difficulty paying salaries and pensions, the Greek government may be forced to issue IOUs or scrip, essentially introducing a parallel currency.
Tsipras has said the capital controls, which shuttered banks and limited cash withdrawals to €60 per day since Monday will stay in place until a new bailout deal is signed.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis suggested late last week that a deal could be reached within 24-hours of the vote — a prediction few in Brussels view as even remotely possible.
If Tsipras fails to make good on a pledge to secure a new deal within hours of a No vote, he would come under intense pressure to step down, as Greeks see that the referendum may push them out of the euro.
The outcome had been too close to call for days. A poll Friday put the Yes and No camps in a statistical dead heat with nearly 15 percent of the electorate undecided.
Leaving the polls early on Sunday, pensioner Maria Kladi, 65, said she voted No in protest at the austerity measures that have eroded living standards.
“I voted No because there’s no way we can accept being serfs in our own country,” she added, saying she did not fear a future outside the single currency. “Would it be any worse than this?”
Still, about three quarters of Greeks want to keep the single currency that replaced the drachma in 2002 and are alarmed at the prospect of leaving the euro.
The closely fought referendum divided Greeks and many said they would probably only make up their mind when they entered the polling booth.
Christos Lambrou, 52, an advertising executive who recently lost his job, said he voted Yes because he feared a “Grexit” and because he distrusted Tsipras.
“I’m frightened (about leaving the euro) because there is a part of me that believes the other European nations would have done something a long time ago if they saw reason to,” he said after casting his ballot in the Athens district of Lamprini.
“What has happened this week frightens me. They’re taking it calmly and that domino effect we’ve been hearing about, ‘if Greece falls, they all fall,’ doesn’t seem to work and that scares me even more.”