The Papandreou regime is isolated and thoroughly reviled by the overwhelming majority of the Greek electorate. Unpublished opinion surveys suggest that if a general election would be held tomorrow, Pasok, Papandreou’s party, “socialist” in name only, would suffer the most humiliating defeat in its 37-year long history, with its current parliamentary caucus of 152 reduced by 60 percent or more. With the entire opposition demanding elections now; with popular unrest growing by the day; with grass roots non-compliance movements billowing into nationwide campaigns of disobedience; and with Pasok ministers and parliamentarians not daring to show their faces in public for fear of physical attacks, Papandreou is well aware that both his political party and himself are practically finished. So here comes the referendum as the regime’s Hail Mary attempt to avoid a complete and utter rout at the ballot box and, possibly, smear the opposition with some of the guilt for Greece’s collapse into an economic, social, and political Armageddon caused by bankruptcy and the country’s entanglement with an IMF-EU-ECB “bailout” that has proved itself the equivalent of a poison chalice.
But who decided on this and how did it pop out of a box?
Papandreou’s “governing” style is little known outside this country; in this particular case though it is key to understanding how this referendum bolt was launched. Papandreou is surrounded by a small circle of like-minded cronies that have little relation to the essence and nature of Greek politics. His initial administration after his electoral victory in October 2009 included “new faces” that were completely disconnected from the business of government, without any managerial skills, and deeply alienated from the main body of the supposed political party behind them. The results of this disastrous “managerial style” became savagely clear within a year, with key ministries sunk into administrative chaos and Papandreou’s novice, politically illiterate amateurs stumbling from the one political debacle to the next. Administration rearrangements, cabinet reshuffles, and constant “brotherly” infighting for pole position, not to mention Greece’s collapse into unprecedented dire economic straits, changed this failed and dangerous circle-of-cronies formula little. The referendum idea was thus almost certainly hatched within this small cabal of trusted “friends” but in an utter and complete political vacuum without the slightest view of the strategic implications of such a bombshell announcement. And Papandreou himself, true to his perennial self as the brightest “novel approach” boy on the block, hesitated little in climbing onto the podium and blurting out how he plans to offer Greek voters more democracy.
If a referendum is indeed held, what would be the likely outcome?
That will depend largely on the questions being asked and the “mood” of the electorate at that moment. Greek majorities hovering around 90% dismiss the Papandreou regime as incapable of controlling Greece’s slide into default chaos; kowtowing to the “troika” of IMF, EU and ECB over more and more demands for dead-end, man-eating austerity; failing in protecting the less fortunate and dismantling Greece’s already feeble welfare system; and having no reserves of political power in order to offer a last-ditch defense of foundering Greek prospects. At the same time, Pasok’s collapse in the polls has not been followed by a distinct rise of any single political party as an alternative to the current regime. This fragmentation of the Greek electorate has not gone unnoticed by Papandreou, who hopes to create question “dilemmas” with maximum anxiety and fear load aiming to browbeat voters into choosing him and his regime as Greece’s continuing “saviors.” Papandreou is well aware of Greece’s electoral history and the tendency of Greek voters to give powers to the wrong people at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that he and his circle of cronies badly underestimate the darker aspects of the current crisis and its potential to deliver a torrent of violence upon the “saviors.”
But surely the Greek voters will side with the “voice of reason” and uphold EU membership and continuing euro currency participation.
Don’t be so sure. Few from the outside realize the catastrophe that has befallen this country in the last 20 months. Large swaths of Greek society are being pauperized by Papandreou’s vicious austerity measures dictated by the “troika.” The Greek economy is entering its fourth year of deep recession that is morphing into persistent depression. Greeks, in their thousands, are abandoning the home shores in the hope of finding a better future in other countries. Greece’s lenders, despite belatedly realizing that the “bailout” has been wrong on every major assumption that it was based upon, continue to demand cuts upon cuts upon cuts without the slightest concern that a country of barely 11 million could end up soon with 2 million unemployed. “Rationalization” policies that would normally be accepted on a long term basis are being shoved down the throat of the Greek people as “instant imperatives” literally tearing the patient’s innards apart. Right now EU membership, and certainly the euro, sound less and less attractive to many Greeks (after the introduction of the ‘common currency’ prices in Greece shot up like booster rockets, their impact being alleviated by disastrous low-interest borrowing).
And now what?
Your guess is as good as ours. In an ironic way, Papandreou’s surprise salvo across the bows endangers keenly the edifice his foreign “friends” thought he was dedicated to defending even at the price of tearing his own country apart. In the event, Papandreou succeeded in both tasks: he has driven Greece into the ground and he is now moving in a direction that could spell a detonation over Italy and an immediate chain reaction throughout the increasingly undemocratic and unrepresentative system of the European “union.” Some speak even of a dark conspiracy that aims to scuttle the European experiment, and the tin euro currency, via manipulating the idiosyncrasies, ideological obsessions, and “trendy” proclivities of the Papandreou regime -- but in order to answer questions on this possibility we should perhaps wait for the next round of Wikileaks.