Greeks deeply divided heading into crucial vote

With less than a day to go until a crucial referendum, people in the Greek capital seem to be divided on whether to endorse a financial aid deal with creditors.

ATHENS, GREECE (JULY 4, 2015) (REUTERS) – With less than 24 hours to go until the ballots open in a referendum which may decide Greece’s future in Europe’s single currency, Greeks seemed divided on Saturday (July 4) whether or not to accept the terms of a further bailout deal set out by international lenders.

On Friday evening (July 3), tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Athens in rival rallies – illustrating the deep divide in the population’s opinion.

Some residents of Athens fear that the country will remain divided after the referendum.

“I fear the rift. I know what I’m going to vote but I believe that the referendum was a bad idea. It has provoked a terrible rift in Greek society. I think the political issue will be overcome but I am very much afraid that the divide will remain,” Pantelis Avidis, a pensioner, told Reuters TV.

Four opinion polls published on Friday (July 5) had the ‘Yes’ vote marginally ahead; a fifth put the ‘No’ camp 0.5 percent in front, but all were well within the margin of error.

All estimates so far point to a neck-and-neck final result.

This division is clear among Athens residents.

Kiki Kiziridou, a forty-five-year-old housewife, said she will vote yes.

“I’m going to vote yes because I want to support Europe and nothing more, just Europe. I want to stay in Europe. I want my children to be Europeans, not just in name but in substance,” Kiziridou said.

While nineteen-year-old student Antonis Sikounopoulos said he does not trust politicians and he will vote no.

“Of course I’m going to vote no because I want my country to change direction. All these years politicians have stolen and lied to the people and we never saw any change. The no is not a simple no, we are saying no because we want a new direction and because with these measures there will not be any growth whatsoever,” Sikounopoulos said.

Many Greeks feel that it is their right to decide on the country’s future.

“I feel very proud that after 40 years we finally are having a referendum in Greece. I don’t believe the consequences that the media are saying will happen (with a no vote). I think they are totally fake so I will vote no,” said sixty-year-old high school teacher Antonis Lambropoulos.

On Friday (July 3) Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected in January on a promise to end years of austerity, urged people packing the central Syntagma square in central Athens to spurn the tough terms of the aid deal offered by creditors to keep the country afloat.

His European partners say a ‘No’ vote will jeopardise Greece’s membership of the euro.

Tsipras says they are bluffing, fearing the fallout for Europe and the global economy. A ‘Yes’ vote may bring him down, ushering in a new period of political instability for a country reeling from five days of shuttered banks and rationed cash withdrawals.

His opponents accuse Tsipras of gambling Greece’s future on a rapid-fire plebiscite that a major European rights watchdog says falls short of international standards of fairness.

Tsipras is betting Europe will compromise rather than let Greece slip out of the euro zone. But behind the rhetoric, there were more concrete signs of the pressure Europe can exert on Greece.

The euro zone’s rescue fund, Greece’s largest creditor, said it was reserving the right to call in 130.9 billion euros of debt ahead of time after Athens defaulted on an IMF loan.

With banks shuttered all week, cash withdrawals rationed and commerce seizing up, Sunday’s ballot could decide whether Greece gets another last-ditch financial rescue in exchange for more harsh austerity measures or plunges deeper into economic crisis.

One in four Greek workers are jobless; the economy has shrunk by a quarter since 2009.

Tsipras’ opponents have pointed to the fact that the referendum is on a deal that is no longer on the table, accusing him of recklessly endangering the country’s future.

Greece’s top administrative court, however, rejected an appeal against the referendum by two Greek citizens, who argued that the constitution bars plebiscites on fiscal issues and that the question is too complex.