ATHENS, Greece (AP) â€” Greeks were voting Sunday in a bailout referendum that will decide the country's future, with opinion polls showing people evenly split on whether to accept creditors' proposals for more austerity in exchange for rescue loans or defiantly reject the deal.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is gambling the future of his 5-month-old left-wing government on the quick poll â€” insisting that a "no" vote would strengthen his hand to negotiate a better deal with the country's creditors & saying "yes" would mean capitulating to their harsh demands.
The opposition accuses Tsipras of jeopardizing the country's membership in the 19-nation club that uses the euro & says a "yes" vote is approximately keeping the usual currency.
p>While voters headed to polling stations, large lines once again formed at ATM machines. Worried Greeks were still seeking to withdraw their daily limit of 60 euros ($67) â€” part of banking restrictions imposed last Monday in an attempt to halt a bank run following Tsipras' call for a referendum.
Tsipras' high-stakes standoff with lendersâ€” the European Union & the International Monetary Fund â€” resulted in Greece defaulting on its debts this past week & shutting down its banks to avoid their collapse. The debt-wracked nation moreover lost access to billions of euros after an existing bailout deal expired.
The sense of urgency was palpable all week as Greeks struggled to decipher a convoluted referendum question while being bombarded with frenzied messages of impending doom or defiance.
Nikolaos Papadopoulos, a voter in Athens, said he cast a "yes" ballot.
"I believe in a democracy, in a united Europe, in a world with a satisfactory economy. And I want us all to work together to move forward & not to be retrogressive," he said.
But another Athens voter, Ioannis Nikolaou, disagreed.
"I voted for Tsipras & want to vote 'no' because I've lived in Europe & know what rights Europeans & Greeks have. For that reason alone. They don't have the same rights," he said.
Polls published Friday showed the two sides in a dead heat & an overwhelming majority of people â€” approximately 75 percent â€” who wanted Greece to remain in the euro currency.
"Today, we Greeks decide on the fate of our country," conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said as he cast his ballot. "We vote 'yes' to Greece. We vote 'yes' to Europe."
No matter the referendum result, Tsipras faces a tough road ahead, fraught with uncertainty approximately whether he will be able to deliver an improved bailout agreement.
Yale University political science professor Stathis Kalyvas said the Greek government will face daunting challenges no matter which way the vote goes. If the "no" side wins, Kalyvas said the Greek government could be faced with the refusal of other eurozone countries to negotiate a better deal because of their distrust of Tsipras.
A "yes" win won't mean a road to the negotiating table strewn with roses either, yet would likely usher in a new government with a shot at negotiating an improved deal, Kalyvas said.
He said if the EU wants to keep Greece in the eurozone, it will have to come up with "a very generous plan" since the cost of the crisis has shot up to unanticipated levels.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble agreed, telling the daily Bild paper that future negotiations between Greece & its creditors will be "very difficult" because the country's economic situation has worsened dramatically in recent weeks.
Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis, meanwhile launched a salvo at other euro nations, accusing them of holding out on a bailout deal to allow Greece's bank coffers to run dry so they could force Greece to accept what he called a humiliating deal.
Writing in the daily Kathimerini, Varoufakis said accepting the creditors' terms would be a "permanent condemnation" while rejecting it would offer the "only prospect for recovery."
Varoufakis says banks will reopen Tuesday whatever the referendum's outcome. But that's unlikely to happen unless the European Central Bank agrees to increase the credit to Greek banks.
With speculation swirling on the referendum's impact, Greece's Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis denied media reports that he would be picked to lead a new "grand coalition" government.
"The country has a prime minister who will have an even stronger popular mandate & support. I will serve this mandate," he said.
Official referendum website: http://www.referendum2015gov.gr/en/
Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros, Iuliia Subbotovskaia & Eftehia Katsareas in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.
Source: “Associated Press”