The Prime Minister wants to avoid early general elections at all costs, and this is the reason for the announcement that he intends to organise a referendum to approve or throw out the Eurozone agreement [concluded on 27 October].

The reaction of the political class has been nothing short of extreme. There is no denying that MPs have been spooked by the action taken on 28 October, which, for the first time in 71 years, prevented the traditional parade on our national holiday from taking place — a development that has clearly placed the Prime Minister in a delicate position.

A crisis has also erupted in the ranks of the PASOK [ruling socialist party] parliamentary group. It is now clear that George Papandreou no longer has the support of the 151 MPs that he needs to promote the referendum.

A PM desperate to avoid the polls

And this means that he will have to walk a tightrope to survive in the wake of next Friday’s confidence vote, because all the indications are that George Papandreou’s colleagues will not allow him to go through with this referendum, even if he does have their confidence.

If we step back to look at events solely from the personal perspective of the Greek Prime Minister, resorting to a referendum will be to his advantage, at least on paper. There is no question of it being a pretext for for a heroic exit from political life, as some commentators have claimed.

If we start from the beginning, the very first thing we can say about Georges Panpandreou is that his government’s mandate has been a catastrophe that has gone against the interests of the people to the point where it is without precedent.

Certainly, he had to face extraordinary adverse circumstances, but there is no denying the division that now lies between the government and the population. It is for this reason that the Prime Minister is desperate to avoid going to the polls.

No, it is not because there is a “risk to the nation”, but because the consequences for PASOK would be immeasurable. An election now would undermine the entire political class, and damage George Papandreou’s international political ambitions. That is why a referendum has been deemed to be a better solution.

We can expect mass abstention

Papandreou has decided to blackmail the Greek people by confronting them with a dilemma: "Either you vote for the European agreement, or if you dare to say no, Greece will go bankrupt and we will leave the euro".

Between 80% and 85% of Greeks want nothing more to do with Papandreou and his government, but we cannot say that there is popular support for state bankruptcy. If over the next three months, the government mounts a press campaign to identify a “no-vote” with bankruptcy, the people might respond by voting “no” on the day.

Alternatively, we can expect mass abstention from all the parties, and a turnout as low as 15% to 20%, which would mean that the procedure would be simply dropped.