Greece: Vote of Confidence and the Future Referendum

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

On the evening of October 31, 2011, in a politically risk move [el], the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called for an immediate vote of confidence in parliament [el] and a referendum for or against the latest EU bailout loan, while addressing the parliamentary group of the ruling PASOK party. Although Papandreou has ruled out elections, a premature poll may be in the cards, in case of a negative answer to the referendum dilemma.

The news took European and international power circles by surprise, as is apparent in related articles by the Guardian, ReutersCNN, the New York Times and other news outlets.

Addressing [el] the PASOK parliamentary group, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos remarked that the referendum should be seen as an opportunity for unconventional institutional initiatives:

From page of the Guardian newspaper featuring the Greek crisis, from @guardiannews

From page of the Guardian newspaper featuring the Greek crisis, from @guardiannews

And of course, the intervening period until the referendum must be a time of big institutional and political initiatives. It is an opportunity to take unconventional, revisionist initiatives towards a new state, a modern representative constitution.

Accordingly, he threw down the gauntlet at citizens, by essentially posing the dilemma “stay in the Eurozone and with PASOK, or return to the drachma and the financially lean conditions of post-war times”:

Now citizens themselves will be called to answer, with logical cohesion and consistency, with a beginning, middle and end, by supporting the parliamentary majority: Are we for Europe? Are we for the Eurozone? Are we for Euro? Do we consider the balance as positive? Do we believe we should stay in this group of developed states and not go back to Greece of the drachma, or to Greece of the '60s and '50s?

The announcement was received in a generally negative climate, with critical comments with respect to the timing of the announcement of the future referendum, as well as of the potential triggering of elections. Many comments on Twitter were posted under the hashtags #dimopsifisma and #referendum.

Main opposition party New Democracy tweeted:

@neademokratia: Elections are the only solution!

Journalist Diane Shugart commented on the televised statement of the press officer of the Greek Communist Party (KKE):

@dianalizia: and the fun starts now in #greece. communist party rejects referendum, calls for elections instead.

Foivos Panagopoulos in the Netherlands comments on the impact of the referendum on the global economy:

@suorm: The Greek #referendum is going to be a snowflake that's going to create a massive avalanche across the EU/Asian/NA market. Bye-bye EU right!

While in Athens, Εliana and Cyberela comment on the announcement itself in two tweets:

@Cyberela: Too much democracy today in #Greece. #Referendum

@ElianaVou: Surreal is an understatement for today's events. Either PASOK has totally lost the plot or PASOK has totally lost the plot #dimopsifisma

Kyriakos Pierrakakis and Maria Katsikovordou wonder about the cost of the referendum in this financially difficult period:

@Pierrakakis: Who'll incur the cost of the referendum?

@mariakatsme: Good morning, let me be a bit “populist”: The referendum will cost us 110 million Euros #dimopsifisma. Maybe we should drop it and spare families from cutting off their electricity? #christmas

While Sofia Mandilara left the immediate reaction of global markets without comment:

@thesspirit: Dow Jones drops by 275 points within minutes. No further comments.

Many ironic and humorous comments followed in a similar vein, reviving an older Twitter meme with possible question choices for the referendum:

@YBoyio: #42 is the answer to the Ultimate Greek Dilemma. The question of the referendum is still unknown! [“42″ is the answer to the unknown question about Life, the Universe and Everything, in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy]

@arkoudos: I propose to hold a referendum to decide on the question of the referendum #dimopsifisma

@jasongrig: Tolerance or guilt? #dimopsifisma

@IrateGreek: Default or bankruptcy? #dimopsifisma

Three days before, on October 28, the celebration of the “Ochi Day” anniversary to commemorate the induction of Greece into World War 2 in 1940 had been marked by protests.

The last Greek referendum took place in 1974 [el], to decide whether the system of government would be a constitutional monarchy or a parliamentary democracy.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Thumbnail image shows Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Image by Xristina, copyright Demotix (01/11/2011).

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