The referendum is not, as Tsipras repeatedly claimed during his announcement, an expression of democracy in response to the “authoritarianism” of the creditors. His argument that the creditors must bend to the will of his election mandate has been preposterous from the start: In which debtor nation would voters not elect to have easier credit terms? And in what case has the International Monetary Fund or any creditor been answerable to the electorate of its client nation?
This is populist dishonesty. It may be that by this point Greece would be better off defaulting and returning to the drachma (though I doubt it). And it may be that a majority of Greeks would make the choice to go it alone, rather than continue a dysfunctional relationship with the nation’s economic partners and creditors (although opinion polls suggest not). But the proposed referendum doesn’t ask those questions.
Tsipras and his party want this vote to legitimize their decision to default and exit the euro, most likely after that decision has already been made, without actually telling Greeks that this is the choice they are making. It gives further weight to my suspicion that Syriza’s erratic negotiating behavior for the last five months has been driven by a preference for default and exiting the euro they could not express, because the party had no mandate for it.
Greek voters should be told the honest truth about what they would be deciding on July 5, if the vote goes ahead at all after the likely chaos of the next week: a return to the bailout terms within the euro, or a default and a return to fiscal sovereignty outside it.