ATHENS, Greece, Jul 5 – Greece voted in a tightly fought referendum Sunday that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said will determine its “destiny” in the eurozone, as the EU country teetered on the brink of financial collapse.
From remote Aegean islands to the shadow of the 2,400-year-old Parthenon in Athens, Greeks despairing at years of austerity – and angry at capital controls this week that have closed banks and prompted a clean-out of supermarket shelves – cast their ballots.
Polls show opinion evenly divided between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ with many believing neither result would provide a quick and clear solution to Greece’s debt woes.
Fear that a ‘No’ result urged by the government could put Greece on the path to an exit from the eurozone – a so-called Grexit – spooked some.
“When you have to choose between two bad solutions, you choose the least bad, and that’s clearly ‘Yes’,” said Dimitris Kavouklis, 42, as he voted in an upmarket district of the capital.
“We’re voting ‘No’ but we’re afraid. But when we vote ‘Yes’, we’re afraid as well. We’re afraid on both sides,” said Nadia, a 63-year-old retired English teacher on the island of Poros, near Athens, her eyes reddened from crying.
As Tsipras voted in his northern Athens neighbourhood he said he was confident of a ‘No’ that, he has argued, would force concessions from the creditors to give Greeks less austerity and more “dignity”.
“No one can ignore the will of the people to live, to live with determination, to take its destiny into its own hands,” he said, appearing relaxed and wearing an open-necked white shirt.
Tsipras’s flamboyant finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has slammed Athens’s creditors for raising the spectre of Grexit, pointing out no legal mechanism exists to force Greece out of the “irreversible” monetary union.
He has vowed to resign if a ‘Yes’ prevails, and the pressure would be on Tsipras to do the same.
Voting was to close at 7pm (1600 GMT), with results expected a couple of hours later.