People vs. corporate rule: Thessaloniki’s great referendum

First, quantitative:

More than 1500 volunteers set up ballot boxes outside the 192 electoral centres of the 11 municipalities of Thessaloniki’s metropolitan area, at the same time as the municipal elections taking place inside. Numerous groups and citizens’ initiatives worked side by side to carry out the plebiscite, with the infrastructural and moral support of the 11 municipal councils. A few volunteers, intimidated by the government’s threats to arrest the organizers for "obstructing the electoral process", failed to show up, however the coordinating groups moved people around quickly and covered the vacancies. There were minor incidents, with some police guards refusing to hand the ballot boxes to the organizers, but legal counsellors intervened successfully in all cases.

218.000 people cast their vote, about 34% of registered voters. Compare this to 55% of registered voters who participated in the municipal elections. About 60% of those who voted inside the electoral centres also voted in the referendum. Had the ballot boxes been inside the schoolyards, in central easy to find places, this figure would have been much higher. Unfortunately the government disregarded the organizers’ call and banished them from the yards.

98% of the vote was for “NO” to privatizing Thessaloniki’s water and sewerage company.

The reason for this “North Korean” kind of figure is twofold: First, Thessalonikeans are overwhelmingly against privatization. Opinion polls before the referendum showed opposition to privatization to be as high as 75%. Second, the government, through statements by Thessaloniki’s conservative mayoral candidate and a memo by the Minister of Interior, gave the “party line” to its supporters: The referendum is “illegal” and “of questionable validity”. Thus many conservative voters stayed away from the ballot boxes, although as many of them participated on the “NO” side.

Hundreds of volunteers stayed up until 4.00 in the morning counting the votes, in a mixed state of exhaustion and euphoria, under the supervision of Thessaloniki’s Barristers Association and dozens of international observers. The results were displayed live at

Now, on the qualitative side:

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