Was the referendum on the Greek rescue plan just political theater?
That question arises as pressure mounts on Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to step down after an odd couple of days in which he announced then withdrew a proposal to put the latest Eurozone rescue deal before the Greek citizenry as a referendum vote.
The decision to float the referendum proposal now shows signs of being politically motivated in the wake of his withdrawing it under intense pressure from international leaders and opposition lawmakers in Greece.
Perhaps he hoped to skirt criticism for eventually accepting the deal by first depicting himself as a man trying to do everything he can to keep the Greek people from suffering under new austerity measures and the indignity of further bailouts.
If that indeed was what he intended to do by proposing such a vote, he clearly underestimated the international and internal blowback that now threatens to end his political career. Ironically, a referendum of sorts could do him in on Friday, when he faces a confidence vote in Parliament.
It appears that Prime Minister's political future has temporarily taken a backseat to the greater concerns of the world economy and of the Greek people, who have come fully aware of the bleak future their nation - which, among other things, is suffering from approximately 40 percent unemployment among citizens under 30 years of age - faces if the deal does not go through.
The doomsday prospect of their country's government defaulting on its debt, leaving the Eurozone -- or, more likely, being booted from it as German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened Wednesday in an attempt to put unbearable pressure on Papandreou to accept the hard-fought compromise deal -- and sending the country back to the days of the drachma has scared Greeks and their leaders into facing up to the difficult tasks ahead of them.
Papandreou gave a speech Thursday afternoon crafted in hopes of drawing attention away from the debacle he created by proposing the referendum earlier in the week. The surprise announcement threw world markets into turmoil Tuesday, prompted nasty exchanges with other heads of state and caused massive rifts within the country's leadership and political parties. He even had to meet until the wee hours of the morning to get his own cabinet on board.
What is of priority is not the referendum but whether as a country we are willing to enforce the commitments [outlined] in the October 26 [EU rescue] agreement, the Guardian newspaper reported he said in the Thursday speech.
I told our partners that if we had political consensus, if we could vote through the rescue package [with the main opposition party] there would be no need for other solutions.
Early Thursday, the AP reported that Papandreou had agreed to step down in favor of a new coalition government. Later Thursday he went back on that alleged promise after opposition parties agreed to the rescue package and the referendum was scratched.
The Associated Press reported Thursday before he rescinded the referendum plan that Greece's embattled Socialist government was on the point of imploding Thursday as a revolt against... Papandreou's planned referendum on the country's hard-won international bailout package gathered pace ... His shock referendum decision Monday angered European leaders and many of his own party lawmakers, several of whom have called for the prime minister to step down and a cross-party national unity government to be created in order to safeguard the bailout.
Now Sky News is reporting that the beleaguered prime minister will hold talks with opposition leaders who have asked for early elections, but have backed off on a threat to resign in protest.
It's hard to say for certain whether there was a method to Papandreou's madness. But the world will know whether it was enough to save the man come Friday's confidence vote.