Prime Minister George Papandreou dropped a political bombshell on Monday night by announcing that his Socialist government would hold a confidence vote and a referendum on a new European Union aid package for the country, saying that the decision on whether to adopt the deal or not would be given to voters.
The confidence vote is to take place on Friday night following three days of parliamentary debate, the Athens News Agency reported late Monday. The main conservative opposition New Democracy party indicated almost immediately that it would not join the vote of confidence.
The referendum would be held later, either in December or possibly in January as Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis indicated yesterday.
Addressing a session of PASOK?s parliamentary group, Papandreou said he had faith in Greeks making the right decision. ?Let each Greek person decide; with a ballot paper in his hand, let each person decide for his country and for himself,? he said.
Of the debt deal, which EU leaders toiled for days to finalize, Papandreou said it was down to Greeks to accept it, or not. ?If they do not want the deal it will not be implemented, if they do it will be implemented.?
The premier insisted that calling snap polls - before elections which are scheduled for 2013 - would be ?simply dodging the issue.? He made the latest in a series of appeals for political consensus and vehemently defended his government?s efforts in negotiating last week?s EU deal. ?We keep hearing criticism that we did not negotiate when we managed to renegotiate our debt,? he said.
Unlike other sessions of PASOK?s parliamentary group, MPs were yesterday forbidden from commenting after the premier?s speech, sources said.
Papandreou?s initiative was broadly seen as a response to growing pressure by skeptical PASOK cadres over recent weeks for him to assume ?political initiatives.? Having emphasized that early elections were out of the question and would be an irresponsible move in the midst of the crisis, Papandreou is believed to have fallen back on the confidence vote and a referendum as safer gambles.
In June, Papandreou sought, and won, a similar vote to bolster his government before pushing deeply unpopular austerity measures into law. Additional measures were voted through Parliament earlier this month.
The premier had expressed his support for a referendum in September though he had avoided specifying whether such a vote would be on how the country should tackle its economic problems or on Greece?s position in the eurozone.
The announcement by the premier came a day after an opinion poll found that 60 percent of Greeks view Thursday?s EU debt deal - involving a 50 percent writedown of the country?s debt and another 130 billion euros in loans - as negative.