Stefanos Kasselakis, a former Goldman Sachs associate and political novice, has been elected as the leader of Greece’s leftist Syriza party. This comes as the party hopes for a comeback after suffering a heavy defeat in a national election. Syriza, which came to power during Greece’s debt crisis in 2015, lost to the conservative New Democracy party in 2019 and in June 2023.
Kasselakis, a 35-year-old self-made shipping entrepreneur, ran against Effie Achtsioglou, a 38-year-old lawyer and former labor minister. With 75% of the vote counted, Kasselakis won 56.7% of the vote, while Achtsioglou received 43.3%. This election allowed party members to directly vote for their leader.
Despite having little political experience, Kasselakis spent over two decades in the United States and previously volunteered in the 2008 U.S. Democratic primaries for then-Senator Joe Biden. He ran on Syriza’s national ticket in the June election but was not successful. Kasselakis launched his leadership bid in late August.
Kasselakis replaces Alexis Tsipras, a firebrand leftist who rallied voters around Syriza with his anti-austerity rhetoric during the debt crisis. Tsipras was forced to accept a third international bailout and more austerity measures. He resigned in June after Syriza only received 18% of the vote.
Kasselakis emerged as the frontrunner in the first round of voting on September 16. He ran a successful social media campaign promising to end New Democracy’s hold on power and defeated five other candidates, most of whom were high-ranking Syriza members. However, his candidacy divided Syriza supporters, with many questioning his fit within the traditional Left. His victory has also unsettled his center-left and conservative political opponents, who see him as a threat.
Despite his lack of political experience, Kasselakis has the support of Nikos Pappas, one of Tsipras’ closest aides and a former minister. Kasselakis is married to nurse Tyler Macbeth and has emphasized the importance of having a capable, incorruptible, and unscathed prime minister who happens to be gay.
During the campaign, Achtsioglou, who served as the main negotiator with Greece’s foreign lenders on labor issues from 2016 to 2019, criticized Kasselakis for his ignorance on foreign policy issues. She pointed out a perceived blunder he made regarding ethnically-split Cyprus, referring to the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a “statelet” instead of a “pseudo-state” as most Greeks describe it. Kasselakis later attributed this mistake to fatigue and being unfamiliar with the language.
As Kasselakis is not a lawmaker, he will likely need to appoint a party deputy to lead Syriza’s parliamentary group.
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