Greeks face two grim choices in crucial referendum

A woman holding a Greek flag at a rally in Madrid in support of Greece yesterday. Greeks voted in a referendum yesterday on whether to accept or reject the tough terms of an international aid offer to stave off financial collapse.
A woman holding a Greek flag at a rally in Madrid in support of Greece yesterday. Greeks voted in a referendum yesterday on whether to accept or reject the tough terms of an international aid offer to stave off financial collapse.PHOTO: REUTERS

Rejection of austerity-heavy bailout deal may see the country being forced out of euro zone

ATHENS • Beleaguered Greeks heading to the polls yesterday were resigned to choosing between "being devoured by a lion or a wolf" in a bailout referendum that many see as an impossible decision with unknown consequences for their crisis-wracked country.

Voting "no" meant rejecting an austerity-heavy bailout deal from Greece's international creditors. But it could also see the country being forced out of the euro zone.

Teacher Dimitris Halatsis 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.

Mr Michelis, 80, first in through the doors of a school being used for the vote in central Athens, said: "If we vote 'no', they'll take us more seriously." He added that he was voting "for my grandchildren".

GREECE CAN’T END UP LIKE THIS

When you see a pensioner crying in front of a bank, you realise that a country as important for the world andits culture as Greece cannot end up like this. ’’

ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER MATTEO RENZI, to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero

Some Greek citizens living abroad flew home to cast their votes in hopes of tipping the outcome one way or the other.

Last Saturday at Athens airport, among the streams of tourists heading for Greek island vacations, there were a few expatriate Greeks who had come back for the referendum.

"I came just to vote," Mr Kostas Kokkinos, a 60-year-old Greek living on the European island of Cyprus, told Agence France-Presse. He said he was voting "yes" in the referendum, then leaving just a day or two later.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his radical-left Syriza party have urged people to reject a "humiliating" deal from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

WILL OF THE PEOPLE

No one can ignore the will of the people to live, to live with determination, to take its destiny into its own hands. ’’

GREEK PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS, after casting his ballot

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS?

I’m more than angry... to queue for €60, not to know what I will have tomorrow. What life is that?

RETIRED JOURNALIST THEODORA, 61,who said she was voting “yes”, following a week of capital controls that capped ATM withdrawals at €60 (S$90) a day

But many Greeks fear that 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.

Retired journalist Theodora, 61, said she was voting "yes" because a victory for the "no" camp "would be the beginning of a dissolution".

She said that the government's imposition of capital controls this week - which capped ATM withdrawals at €60 (S$90) a day - had infuriated Greeks.

"I'm more than angry... to queue for €60, not to know what I will have tomorrow. What life is that?" she asked.

A male voter who declined to give his name said "only an idiot would vote against European unity".

Pensioners besieging bank gates to claim their retirement benefits, only to leave empty-handed and in tears, have become a symbol of the nation's dramatic fall over the past decade, from the heady days of the 2004 Athens Olympics to the ignominy of bankruptcy and bailout.

At the polling station in a primary school in Athens' 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.

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.

Mr Dimitris Kavouklis, 42, said: "We're choosing between two tough and bad solutions. When you have to choose between two bad solutions, you choose the less bad, and that's clearly 'yes'."

Mr Basil, 56, was also voting "yes" but blamed Mr Tsipras for calling the referendum at all, insisting that the vote "could have been avoided" - and should have been, 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".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2015, with the headline 'Greeks face two grim choices in crucial referendum'. Print Edition | Subscribe