ATHENS, Greece — George Papandreou is used to getting his way.
The scion of Greece's leading political dynasty, he has been comfortable with power from an early age. His father and grandfather were both prime ministers, towering figures in postwar Greece, and like them, he has honed the art of the political gamble.
His call for a referendum on Greece's rescue package may have been one gamble too far.
Papandreou on Thursday was forced into a humiliating about-face after returning from the G-20 summit in France to face a mutiny in his own Cabinet over the announcement some have likened to a game of chicken.
Outwardly professorial, Papandreou has shared the intransigence of his late father, Andreas, and grandfather, also named George.
He's also something of a paradox — the quintessential insider haunted by a sense of being an outsider.
His childhood in St. Paul, Minn., where his father taught at a university, won him the nickname “George the American.” He studied at Amherst College and Harvard. During rallies, protesters have chanted “George, Go Home!”
He casts himself as a modernizer out to rid Greece of nepotism.
Papandreou has another nickname: “Giorgakis” — little George. It's a dig at the sense of inherited power and reflects the growing view that he lacks the leadership skills and inspirational charisma of the elder Papandreous.
Papandreou came to power two years ago as Greece sank into financial crisis, as the extent of its staggering debt — long concealed through creative accounting — became apparent to investors and alarmed eurozone partners.
As George Papandreou's new government desperately sought to save public money, slashing pensions and salaries and heaping new taxes on ordinary Greeks, Socialist dissenters were routinely expelled from parliament, wearing down his majority in parliament from a healthy 10 seats to just two.
About 90 percent of Greeks now oppose his policies, and his party has 20 percent public support, according to surveys in recent weeks.
Still, he plowed on, ignoring calls to resign. As his grip on power loosened, Papandreou sought to take his government's tough choices straight to the people — a gambit that is now looking like an act of reckless folly.
World markets tanked, and European leaders openly expressed their disbelief. Government officials said the referendum had been dropped.
The conservative daily Kathimerini described him Thursday as the “fatal prime minister.”
“With humiliating consequences for himself and his country, Mr. Papandreou chose to the roll the dice — and he lost.”