Nicos Sarantakos: Greferendum: The second earthquake

Celebrating  NO. Syntagma Square, 5.7.2015. Photo by Marios Lolos Celebrating NO. Syntagma Square, 5.7.2015. Photo by Marios Lolos
Nicos Sarantakos

They say that editorialists, when waiting for a poll result that might go either way, are preparing two drafts of their editorial, so as to cater for either possible outcome. No such tactics would help with yesterday's Greek referendum since the polls gave a totally unexpected outcome.

A narrow win was predicted, either of No or of Yes, but the final verdict was a clear-cut win of No with more than 61%, a win that cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Actually, this is the second major political earthquake in the Greek landscape in recent years, after the one of May 2012 that catapulted SYRIZA into second place and later into power.

Without any ambition of covering all aspects, I’ll jot down some initial thoughts.

* The referendum took place under unprecedented conditions: banks were closed, capital controls have been imposed, people were lining up in front of ATMs, staple food was running out in super-markets. And despite all this, Greek voters gave a resounding defiant response, it did not bow to pressures, neither gave in to terror tactics.

* The result was a debacle for big private media, which in the run-up to the referendum indulged in an orgy of unilateral exposure of the Yes positions, with constant misinformation and manipulation.

* It was also a slap for the old political establishment; they used all their trumps –and yet, they lost. Ex-prime ministers were queueing in TV studios to deliver addresses in favour of Yes, discredited labour leaders came out of hibernation, university rectors, mayors and presidents of regions came forth in favour of Yes (perhaps with an eye to a possible national political career afterwards) –and yet they lost, possibly compromising their own future in the process. We already saw the first casualty, with Antonis Samaras resigning as head of the opposition party ND.

* My hunch is that this unprecedented media pounding, the parading of celebrities and former dignitaries, and the reνanchism displayed by the partisans of Yes, who tried to topple the Syriza government using Europe as a lever, all this functioned as a boomerang. While the Yes vote had good odds in the beginning of the referendum week, when banks closed and unprecedented events happened, the shameless media exploitation and the greed exhibited by the Old Establishment alarmed the common people who reacted first by the unprecedented No rally on Friday July, 3 and then by the yesterday glorious electoral result.

* The yesterday vote had strong class overtones. It was not the Syriza voters who voted for No, rather the poor and the unemployed. The results of two Athens suburbs are eloquent: in the posh Northern suburb of Ekali, the Yes vote won with a resounding 85%; on the other hand, in working-class neighbourhood of Perama, a suburb of Piraeus, it was the No that gathered 76%, with similar results (between 72% και 75%) in Nikaia, Aghia Varvara, Drapetsona and other working-class suburbs. In upper-middle-class Chalandri, where Syriza had come first back in January elections (and also won the local elections with a far-left ticket) Yes came first by a short margin.

* Voters’ age played a role in the yesterday vote. According to a poll, three quarters of students voted for No. Interestingly, a lot of young people opted for No, despite the fact that in January they had voted for parties that supported the Yes option.

* A beneficial side-effect of the big margin was that it made irrelevant the Golden Dawn vote. The Nazist party had appealed for No, and a lot of people feared that the far-right vote might tip the balance in favour of No. Sometimes these were well-intentioned concerns, but often they came from politicians who had themselves associated in the past with the far right. However, thanks to the wide margin the result would have been the same regardless of the Golden Dawn position.

Moreover, the Golden Dawn voters did not follow the party line: according to polls, more than half of them voted for Yes. Not by a coincidence, the Yes vote registered its highest result in Lakonia, the constituency where Golden Dawn made the best national showing in January.

* Communist voters, including very many party members, ignored the official party line in favour of an invalid vote, and they voted massively for No. It should be noted that in his almost centennial existence the Communist Party had always taken a clear-cut side in past referendums, so the yesterday call for an invalid vote was a novelty –which failed to convince the communist voters though.

* And, finally, the yesterday referendum was also a debacle for pollsters who came out, on Sunday evening, with last-minute polls showing a slim margin for No, within the range of statistical error. Previous failures of pollsters had been explained away by the alleged or real last-minute shift of voters, but this excuse will not hold water for the referendum.

* Alexis Tsipras himself has to take a very large part of the credit for the big No win. The result has initiated a fresh mobility at European level but it won’t automatically solve the negotiation deadlock. Either with a Yes or with a No win, things would have been almost equally difficult. Perhaps the biggest difference is that now we can hold our heads up.


Nicos Sarantakos is an author and a translator. He blogs at sarantakos.wordpress.com and at www.sarantakos.com