Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Greece’s leftist Syriza gets new leader: An ex-banker


The main opposition party in Greece, Syriza, made a surprising decision on Sunday by electing former Goldman Sachs trader Stefanos Kasselakis as their new leader, despite their anti-banker stance.

Kasselakis reassured his supporters, who greeted him with a rock-star reception outside his party’s headquarters on Sunday evening, that he would never betray them.

As of Sunday evening, 75% of the votes had been tallied and Kasselakis was in the lead with 56.69%, while Effie Achtsioglou held 43.31%.

After losing two major elections to the conservative New Democracy party this summer, Syriza’s leadership under Alexis Tsipras, who had been in power for 15 years, came to an end. The party’s vote was held as a result of these defeats.

Newcomer Kasselakis appeared virtually out of nowhere when he announced his candidacy in late August, and managed to forge ahead of ex-Labor Minister Achtsioglou, the first woman to compete for the post and until then the favorite to win the leadership.

Kasselakis, the initial openly homosexual leader of a political party in Greece, is wed to Tyler McBeth, an emergency room nurse from America. The 35-year-old entrepreneur, known as “the golden boy” for his previous work in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, recently relocated from the U.S. and does not have much political experience or knowledge of the nation he will now lead as head of the main opposition party.

The sudden increase that holds both promise and uncertainty simultaneously.

Kasselakis’ ascent to the highest level of Greece’s political scene has been remarkably swift.

In the June Greek national election, Kasselakis ran as a candidate for Syriza while living abroad. However, he received little attention and was ultimately unsuccessful in his campaign.

Just under one month ago, in late August, he made headlines by declaring his candidacy for the leadership of Syriza through a widely-shared video. “My name is Stefanos and I have an important message for you,” he stated, positioning himself as the candidate who could defeat conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

According to Kasselakis, he witnessed the direct impact of capital purchasing labor at a low cost and the role of arrogance in making money. As a result, he concluded that a career in finance was not the path for him.

Throughout his election campaign, the media closely examined every detail of Kasselakis’ personal life, specifically his lifestyle choices, fashion sense, and fitness routines. They highlighted his preference for nutritious breakfast omelettes, his routine walks with his spouse and dog Farley, and his habit of wearing sleeveless shirts at the gym before changing into neat white shirts with rolled-up sleeves.

Kasselakis declined to participate in interviews and his stance on political issues is uncertain.

“I am Stefanos and I have a message to share,” announced Kasselakis, positioning himself as the candidate who could overthrow the conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured) | Spyros Bakalis/AFP via Getty Images

Achtsioglou ran for office with the promise of increasing wages, strengthening the welfare system, improving public infrastructure, and addressing the climate crisis.

Kasselakis identified as a patriotic leftist and expressed his desire to revolutionize the current state of things and revive the “Greek dream.”

He desires to eliminate mandatory military service and instead implement social service, while also creating a professional army. He advocated for higher government funding towards education and pushing forward with the separation of religion and government.

According to Nick Malkoutzis, who is the editor and co-founder of MacroPolis, an economic analysis website, if it were not for the current situation, Kasselakis’ lack of political experience and clear beliefs would have made him stand out as an unusual choice.

“Instead of having a clear purpose, his candidacy in a struggling party appealed to all by promising everything. Kasselakis was equally appealing to both Syriza supporters seeking a return to power and those wanting a change within the party.”

Syriza’s evolution

In 2015, a far-left party called Syriza gained control in Greece during a time of financial crisis. They won against the country’s more traditional parties by pledging to put an end to the strict budget measures forced upon them by their creditors. However, their extreme views were toned down when Tsipras, who was the prime minister at the time, agreed to the country’s third bailout. Greece was finally able to break free from the era of bailouts in 2018.

According to political analyst and About People founder Petros Ioannidis, members of Syriza chose Kasselakis as their leader based on his similarities to Tsipras.

According to Ioannidis, the Syriza voters were not enthusiastic or persuaded by any of the other candidates. They were drawn to Alexis Tsipras’s leadership style and were searching for a similar candidate. None of the other candidates possessed these leadership qualities, so the voters pinned their hopes on an unfamiliar candidate in the hopes that he would be more like their ideal leader.

Ioannidis stated that the strategies used in previous years by political campaigns have removed the political aspect from the Syriza supporters, making them more open to non-traditional leftist campaigns and more likely to embrace libertarian ideologies.

Syriza is now facing unfamiliar territory after Kasselakis’ win, and there are concerns that it may cause division within the party.

According to Malkoutzis, a political group with left-leaning roots is now being led by an unfamiliar individual who appears to have more centrist views than leftist ones.

According to Malkoutzis, the unfortunate situation for the Greek left is that even with the support of both Syriza and the Socialist Party, they fell short by about 10 points in the June election compared to New Democracy.

The two groups may have to team up to challenge the conservatives in the upcoming election — however, this could be challenging under Kasselakis’ leadership.

The current inquiry is whether Syriza members will maintain their support for the newcomer as he is pressured to disclose more of his policy plans.

Ioannidis stated that in the upcoming months, it will be determined if the connection formed between the leader and Syriza supporters will become a lasting bond or just a brief expression of their past affection.