Will Tsipras do “a Mintoff”?

Will Tsipras do “a Mintoff”?

This coming Sunday the Greeks will vote in an important referendum. But is it clear what they are voting for?

The ‘yes’ side are saying that those who want Greece to continue forming part of the Eurozone and the EU should vote ‘yes’. On the other hand the ‘no’ vote side are also saying that those who want Greece to continue forming part of the Eurozone and the EU should vote ‘no’. I will not explain the intricacies of both sides of the argument as enough has already been said about them.

The point of this blog is different. Throughout the negotiations between the Tsipras Government, its creditors and the EU I am continually reminded of the negotiations between Dom Mintoff and the British government in 1971.

Both Mintoff and Tsipras had campaigned on the platform that the existing agreements between their respective countries and foreigners had humiliated the locals. Both started negotiations which many said will not lead anywhere.

I remember the long and arduous negotiations. News was never copious. It is difficult to communicate the tension that existed in Malta back in 1971.

At several points of the negotiations it seemed that the negotiations had failed but then developments were registered. One very important development was thanks to the intervention of Archbishop Gonzi. Then it was announced that negotiations had really broken down and the British started dismantling their base. However at the eleventh hour plus one there was a breakthrough and an agreement was signed.

Mintoff played the brinkmanship game to perfection. He did not just get to the brink but even made half a step towards the abyss. It was enough to give the final push for an agreement. Mintoff knew that Malta would be hurt if an agreement would not be reached but he also knew that the interests of the British and NATO would be compromised.

Tsipras is playing a similar game of brinkmanship. One should not be surprised particularly since Varoufakis, the Finance Minister, is an expert in game theory which is a study of strategic decision making.

There is one card, however, being played by Tsipras that Mintoff did not play and would have surely been against playing. I refer to Sunday’s referendum. Mintoff was no lover of referenda. In fact he forced the hand of the majority of the Nationalist members of Parliament to vote for constitutional reform without holding a referendum as laid down in the Constitution. Those my age surely remember the controversy about Clause 6 and the interpretation that the Constitution could be legally changed without a referendum.

Will Tsipras’s referendum card enable him to clinch a deal in the eleventh hour plus one as Mintoff had done without a referendum? We will know by Sunday evening.

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