Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Greek Political Crisis on PBS

On Tuesday, The New Athenian talked with PBS's Jeffrey Brown about the reasons behind Prime Minister George Papandreou's declaration of a referendum.


JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke with John Psaropoulos in Athens. He's a freelance reporter and writes the blog called The New Athenian.
John, welcome.

We said this was a surprise. Apparently it was even a surprise to people in the prime minister's cabinet and party. So what's known about why he suddenly decided to call for a referendum on the plan?
JOHN PSAROPOULOS, freelance reporter: At the moment, the prime minister hasn't explained his thinking, other than what he said in Parliament to his M.P.s yesterday, which was that the country had to move for on a democratic basis, it had to have hope for a better day after the austerity period was done, and that in order to achieve this he wanted his government to have the authority of a popular vote of approval for what was going to be the last phase, I presume, of the austerity measures that have been so painful up until this point.

JEFFREY BROWN: So it caused an immediate firestorm there, with a lot of opposition even within his party. Tell us what's happening now. Is his power threatened at this point?
JOHN PSAROPOULOS: Well, at the moment, the prime minister's power seems to be slipping -- 24 hours after his announcement to have the referendum the entire opposition -- that means left-wing and right-wing parties -- have said they will not back this decision. People have expressed stupefaction.
And he has had three defections within his own party, which now puts him at 150 M.P.s, were his government to come to a vote of confidence on Friday as scheduled. That means that if every party shows up to Parliament for that vote of confidence at the end of the week, and given the stated position of the opposition parties not to back the government at this point because they disagree with the eventual referendum in January, then the government probably doesn't have the M.P.s from its own side in order to survive that vote of confidence.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what kind of gamble is he making? If it's a gamble to try to seek political cover, what do the polls tell you now about how Greeks feel, whether they would support such a referendum?
JOHN PSAROPOULOS: At the moment, it's difficult to say, because the latest opinion polls that have been published were taken before the present crisis erupted.
And, yes, 70 percent of Greeks did say in an opinion poll taken on Friday after the latest deal was reached in Brussels for a $100 billion bailout which is Greece's second bailout, and published on Sunday, that they would rather have Greece remain within the euro and presumably with all the pain that that involves, rather than go back to the drachma.
And 54 percent expressed themselves in favor of a referendum, rather than a parliamentary vote. But at the same time, it doesn't seem to have gone well in terms of the government's thinking or the prime minister's thinking, which is namely that it seems to be that the government will seek to re-legitimize itself and re-bolster its authority through the one issue on which Greeks seem to be united, which is that they want stability to remain within the euro and a sense of continuity, rather than some sort of disorderly default.
It seems that the government misjudged that this would be an issue that it could carry itself forward on in a January referendum, at least because it's too far away for that issue to remain in hiatus. The European summit was called in order to bring certainty and stability. And this now reopens the issue and puts it in jeopardy.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, John Psaropoulos in Athens, thanks so much.

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