Five months of fruitless talks to solve Greece's debt crisis have led the people of Greece to the polls. While millions of people rush to vote on Sunday’s referendum, the euro-currency area braces itself for its biggest challenge yet as its position in global financial markets is jeopardised.
Close to 10 million eligible citizens will line up to vote at 4,800 polling stations staged across the country.
The polls, which opened at 7:00 am local time (4:00 GMT) are expected to close at 7:00 pm, with first results expected after 9:00 pm.
In order for the referendum - also known as the ‘Greferendum’ on social media - to be valid, a 40 percent turnout is required for the results of the plebiscite to be valid.
The cash strapped country is split on whether to accept Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s call to vote “NO” on further austerity measures imposed by its foreign lenders in exchange for further international aid, as observers believe a rejection will push Greece out of the euro zone while destabilising the global economy and financial markets.
"On Sunday we should all send a message of democracy and dignity to the world," said Tsipras to tens of thousands of Greeks rallying for a "No” vote before campaigning ended.
As tensions rise amongst Greece and the Troika, further uncertainty looms over Greece.
Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis has accused Greece’s foreign creditors of “terrorism,” implying that fear is instilled amongst the public.
“Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people,” Varoufakis told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in an interview published Saturday. “And when it’s about spreading terror, that is known as terrorism.”
Varoufakis also told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that regardless of which way Greece votes, a bailout deal with Europe will be signed on Monday.
“Today is a day of celebration because democracy is a celebration” said Tsipras while casting his vote. “Today democracy wins over fear… I am sure by tomorrow we will have opened a road for all the European Union countries,” he said expressing his optimism.
If votes don't close as desired by the Syriza government, both Tsipras and Varoufakis are expected to resign. This in turn will weigh down the country’s future further.
According to the recent results of opinion polls, which ended on Saturday, votes may be conflicting as both sides are believed to show close results. However, close to 74 percent of the Greek public want their country to remain in the euro zone.
If a majority vote “Yes” in Sunday's referendum, European policymakers have warned that the request to hold further negotiation talks will be denied. This will leave Greece with no choice but to fend for itself, moving closer to bankruptcy as it is stripped out of cash.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is to review on Monday its policy on emergency funding, a crucial source of liquidity which Greek lenders depend on. If a “No” vote is to emerge, the ECB may freeze funding even longer or worse, cut it off altogether. These two scenarios may arise once again on July 20 if Greece defaults on its payment to the ECB.
Although capital controls have helped Greek banks slightly, without a deal it heads towards a catastrophe.
Louka Katseli, head of the National Bank of Greece, told reporters on Friday that about $1.1 billion of reserves are remaining in Greek banks. This may be enough to get through the end of Monday or Tuesday morning he said.
Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, told German newspaper Bild that a ‘Grexit’ may be temporary. "Whether with the euro or temporarily without it: only the Greeks can answer this question. And it is clear that we will not leave the people in the lurch."
When voters step up to vote they will come across the following message: "Must the agreement plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June, 2015, and comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal, be accepted?" The first document is titled "Reforms for the completion of the current programme and beyond" and the second "Preliminary debt sustainability analysis."
Voters will then be asked to show their stance by checking either “Yes” or “No” on the ballot paper.
“I voted for Tsipras and want to vote 'No' because I've lived in Europe and know what rights Europeans and Greeks have. For that reason alone. They don't have the same rights," said voter Ioannis Nikolaou
However other voters didn't believe this to be true. Nikolaos Papadopoulos, a voter told AP that he said “Yes” at the polls. "I believe in a democracy, in a united Europe, in a world with a good economy, and I want us all to work together to move forward and not to be retrogressive," he said.
“We Greeks say that with an olive tree and a ship, we can build everything again from scratch. I may be poor for the next 10 years, but my kids will be better off,” Kyriakos Roussopoulos, a 41-year-old chef who is also in approval on the austerity terms.
Martin Schultz, the president of the European Council, said on Sunday that if “No” is the outcome of the Greek referendum, then Greece has to decide on a new currency as the euro will not be available as a payment medium.
However, Greece will remain with the euro currency if the public votes for yes, he said. “When a country imports a new currency, it is out of eurozone. This is the evidence that gives me hope on Greeks voting for 'No.'”
In an interview with the Die Welt am Sontag newspaper, Schultz defended the European Unions’ tough approach against Greece but supported the possibility of providing them emergency aid for wage cover as well as support for the transportation, energy and health care system.
“We won’t abandon the Greek people to their fate, no matter the outcome,” he said.