6. Intelligence Note Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1
GREEK PLEBISCITE: THE REPUBLIC’S INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING
The Greek Government has announced an overwhelming victory in the July 29 plebiscite. According to the Ministry of Interior, virtually complete results as of July 31 show a “yes” vote of 78.4 per cent, thus confirming the constitutional changes decreed by President-elect George Papadopoulos following his abolition of the monarchy and proclamation of the Republic on June 1.
In the days following his dramatic move, Papadopoulos hurriedly rewrote the 1968 constitution, which was never fully implemented, to give Greece a presidency that would control all the levers of power, and promised elections for a constricted parliament in 1974. The electorate was asked to vote “yes” or “no” on July 29 on these changes and on the unopposed candidacies of Papadopoulos as President and armed forces commander General Angelis as Vice President. Their term is to run through June 1, 1981.
Victory Guaranteed. The outcome of the voting was never in doubt. By employing the usual techniques of authoritarian regimes, the junta [Page 19] fostered an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the weeks prior to the referendum and variously conjured up the spectre of chaos, on the one hand, and fascist repression, on the other, as direct consequences of a majority “no” vote. Voting procedures also were rigged to insure the right outcome. Moreover, by making clear that he would not step down irrespective of the plebiscite’s result, Papadopoulos encouraged an attitude of apathy and resignation that was already feeding on the widespread belief that the vote count would be falsified by the junta to record a predetermined total. In fact, extensive upward doctoring of the tally by authorities in Athens appears to have been unnecessary. On the contrary, the “yes” vote may have been so overwhelming, thanks to the efforts of overzealous local officials who seem to have reported near or total unanimity in their villages, that the regime was embarrassed. This in turn, may even have led to efforts to reduce the “yes” vote to more credible proportions.
Opposition Unites. The heavily handicapped effort of many pre-coup political leaders to mount an opposition campaign was unable to cope with the resources of the state arrayed against it. Although the former politicians may have indirectly enhanced Papadopoulos’ victory by urging a “no” vote and thereby recognizing and legitimizing the referendum, their success in closing ranks, from the communist left to the monarchist right, in opposing the plebiscite was especially noteworthy.
Papadopoulos’ Position Improved. In the short term, at least, Papadopoulos has bolstered his position by his success in staging the plebiscite. His victory at the polls will temporarily check the disaffection among the military that had surfaced in the abortive naval coup in May. Many officers who are distrustful of Papadopoulos’ steady consolidation of personal power, including a large number who are disillusioned by his “betrayal of the revolution,” will now bide their time, hoping for some future opportunity either to remove him or to cut him down to size.
The apparent smoothness of the referendum probably will disarm the hardliners in the junta who opposed the plebiscite. Despite their apprehension over indications that Papadopoulos intends to “politicize” the regime following the plebiscite by replacing military officers with civilians, they felt unable to risk a break with him in the weeks before the plebiscite. As has happened before in the six-year history of the regime, Papadopoulos’ would-be rivals in the junta have been outmaneuvered by the new President and are now in no position to dictate to him.
General Angelis’ refusal to follow custom and resign as armed forces commander prior to the referendum can be viewed against this background. He probably fears overdependence as Vice President on [Page 20] Papadopoulos and wishes to maintain his position at the top in the military hierarchy before irretrievably tieing his fortunes to a master of intrigue who has successfully neutralized all rivals in what began in 1967 as a collegium.
Uncertain Prospects. Over the long run, however, Papadopoulos is not likely to preserve his current dominance. He will confront serious problems in coping with skyrocketing inflation, discontented students, and, perhaps most important, growing disaffection within the military which was badly shaken by the demoralizing consequences of the abortive naval coup last May.
Papadopoulos may have deluded himself by the results of his “plebiscite,” but his partners in the junta will not be fooled by the charade. They know that he is not popular among the people and that their own support of him owes much more to the imperatives of survival than to any sentiments of loyalty. This is probably a key factor behind Papadopoulos’ apparent intention to replace an undetermined number of the junta members in the impending government reorganization. Those who remain will be watching for some misstep by Papadopoulos in his handling of a major issue to weaken, at least, his hold on the government.
In any event, proclaiming the Republic and holding the plebiscite may have sown the seeds of still further regime troubles. The mere exercise of voting has probably whetted the appetite for elections of the Greek people, who pride themselves on their political awareness. Although for five years Papadopoulos refused to implement the parliamentary provisions of the 1968 constitution, he will find it more difficult to welsh on his promise of elections in 1974. In this connection, the ability of almost all shades of the hitherto disparate political opposition to unite on a common course of action in urging a “no” vote may yet represent the most significant outcome of the plebiscite.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 14 GREECE. Confidential; No Foreign Dissem. Drafted by Bernard Rotklein and cleared by David Mark and Philip Stoddard (INR/Near East and South Asia).↩