Greeks began voting in a referendum on Sunday that presents the biggest challenge to the running of the euro since its adoption and risks sending shock waves through the world’s financial markets. The nationwide ballot was taking place at the end of a week of unending drama that saw Greece close its banks, ration cash, fail to repay the IMF and lose billions of euros when its bailout programme expired. The vote is on the last terms offered to Greece before its prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, abandoned talks with his country’s lenders last weekend, saying their conditions would only exacerbate the plight of a country whose economy has already shrunk by a quarter. At a rally in the centre of Athens on Friday night, Tsipras urged his compatriots to cast a no ballot, assuring them it would not be a vote for leaving the euro, but for remaining in Europe “with dignity”. Greece’s creditors and most of the opposition parties have claimed that, on the contrary, it could lead to exit from the single market (“Grexit”) and even the European Union.
Almost 9.9 million Greeks have the right to vote in the referendum, which the interior ministry said would cost less than half the amount spent on the general election in January that brought Tsipras’s Syriza party into office in a coalition with the populist, nationalist Anel party.
Among the many imponderables was the impact of votes cast by Greeks living abroad. Under the same rules that govern elections, expatriates must return to the country if they are to cast valid ballots. There was evidence that large numbers of Greeks living abroad were coming back for the referendum and that most leaned towards voting yes.