‘Newcomer’ wins first round of Greece’s left elections
Stefanos Kasselakis, a 35-year-old businessman, the most recent addition to the race for Greek main opposition leftist Syriza party’s leadership, won the first round of the internal elections on Sunday, getting 45% of the vote. A crucial second round is due next week amid a seemingly “ideological war” within the party which is expected to escalate.
The massive participation in Syriza’s (EU Left) elections was interpreted as a “relief” for the main opposition after the decisive defeat in the last elections in July when the ruling New Democracy party (EPP) prevailed with 41% of the vote.
More than 145,000 people took part in the elections, and it is estimated that some 40,000 were new members.
“A first step was taken for the country to have a progressive government soon”, Kasselakis stated after announcing the results.
Kasselakis, a Greek citizen who resides in Miami, US, ranked first with 45%, followed by Efi Achtsioglou, who got 36.2%, Euclid Tsakalotos (8.78%), Nikos Pappas (8.7%) and Stefanos Tzoumakas (1.3%).
A second round is due next Sunday, 24 September, between the first two, and much will depend on which candidate other contesters will support.
In his first statement after he resigned last July, former Syriza leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras commented that the massive participation shows that “some rushed to declare Syriza as absent […] We will be here”.
Kasselakis entered the race at the last minute, and through a well-organised social media campaign, managed to become the talk of the town in just a weekend.
Several Greek media reported that a potential victory for Kasselakis may lead to Syriza’s split, considering several traditional leftist figures consider him a “foreign body” in the party.
Critics also suggest that the fact that he is not a member of the Greek parliament may pose obstacles in the fight against the ruling New Democracy.
They also criticise him for being something “unknown” in Greek politics, given that his only experience is US politics. Kasselakis volunteered on the staff of then-Senator Joe Biden for the 2008 Presidential Election.
However, for others, Kasselakis represents the “new” element modern Syriza needs to stand on its feet again and face the ruling conservative New Democracy party.
Yet, his liberal profile has not been left unnoticed by the government, considering that currently, only Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has captured the “liberal” space of Greece’s political spectrum.
Well-known Syriza figures have stressed that with Kasselakis, the leftist party will reach a wider audience, not only the strict traditional leftist electorate.
His participation in the elections is estimated to have attracted thousands of new members.
A claim to break ties with traditional “backwards thinking” left was also made during former leader Tsipras’ mandate, and many pressured him to “modernise” the party.
Syriza is affiliated with the European Left; However, Tsipras used to participate as an observer in the meetings of the European Socialists, whose official member is the Greek Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok).
The political flirt between Tsipras and the EU socialists had been ongoing for years, with socialist politicians such as Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa openly supporting him.
Critics suggest that next Sunday’s result is expected to determine, to a large extent, the party’s political orientation.
(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)