Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has just done something unthinkable. He has won the Greek referendum. And make no mistake, it was him that won it. It was his decision to call a referendum just over a week ago and send the EU into a panic. The last Prime Minister to try that was George Papandreou in 2011 before he was forced to backtrack rapidly. He resigned shortly after.
But winning the referendum isn’t what is so astounding – opinion polls were neck and neck throughout last week and once voting closed at 7pm Greek time it became almost immediately apparent that the No side would win. What makes his feat so remarkable is that he was able – by virtue of proposing a referendum with a deliberately unclear question – to ask the Greek people some very simple questions to which the answer was always going to be No.
The vote in Greece today was really about whether Greeks were content with the status quo. Did they have jobs? Did they see a future for themselves? Did they have enough money? In effect, he asked people if they were happy, and after years of austerity there was only ever going to be one answer.
This enabled him to do something no other Greek politician has ever done before: gather together everyone in Greece who is, to a greater or lesser degree, suffering. In doing so, he has stolen voters from all the other parties. Syriza was elected to government with 36.3 per cent of the vote. As of midnight Athens time, the No camp was leading with 61.42 per cent of the vote. Tsipras drew almost double the people that voted for his party to back the campaign that his government ran. It’s political alchemy at its finest, and populism at its most dangerous.
David Patrikarakos is a journalist, film producer and author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State. He tweets @dpatrikarakos.