ATHENS – His surprise victory behind him, Greece’s major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance new leader Stefanos Kasselakis – without a seat in Parliament – was faced with putting together a party resurrection plan.
The Greek-American businessman, 35, who said he’s still learning some of the nuances of the language after spending most of his life in the United States, is charged with trying to keep unity in a party split by his win.
He came out of nowhere, no political experience, now leading what nominally is the biggest rival to the ruling New Democracy whose June elections victory was so crushing it drove the Leftists then leader Alexis Tsipras to quit.
Kasselakis stunned the former frontrunner in the SYRIZA race, ex-labor minister Effi Achtsioglou, who said she will have no part now in the party’s hierarchy because she has “no energy” and was beaten down.
The winner was backed by two party veterans who turned on their former colleague Achtsioglou, firebrand former deputy health minister Pavlos Polakis and Tsipras’ former top aide, Nikos Pappas – who wasn’t jailed after being convicted of trying to sell TV licenses while in power.
Tsipras, after taking a beating in 2019 elections to New Democracy that ended his 4 ½ year reign of broken vows that saw him impose harsh austerity, rebranded the party from the Radical Left but that failed.
SYRIZA, by any name, is a motley collection of radicalists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, Leninists, ecologists, anarchist and terrorist sympathizers and had an anti-business core – at odds with Kasselakis’ Capitalist background.
He had been a trader with the American financial giant Goldman, Sachs that had been accused of making profits off Greece’s 2010-18 economic crisis, was a shipowner and even had praised Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
All those elements, along with some in the party declaring his win was “the end” of the Leftists – the director of a pro-SYRIZA newspaper stepped down after Kasselakis’ win – leaves the new leader with a conundrum.
That is: how to fix SYRIZA and what is his plan? He didn’t spell out either in detail in a campaign that was high on social media that focused on a handsome young gay man with savvy communication skills.
NOT SO ROSY DAWN
He’s now facing a hard reality too, that SYRIZA may be the major opposition but has only 47 seats in the 300-member Parliament controlled by the lawmakers from New Democracy.
Not gaining a seat in the body in June elections means SYRIZA’s new leader won’t be in Parliament and will have to rely on a party designee to speak for him on the floor, further marginalizing its effectiveness or voice.
After the obligatory congratulations to Kasselakis, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said New Democracy wants“to get a serious and reliable opposition and for SYRIZA to enter the road of truth and realism.”
“Our confrontation with Mr. Kasselakis will be political… we are awaiting his positions and proposals on all big issues and all the issues that concern citizens,” Marinakis added.
That was seen as a thinly-veiled shot at criticism that Kasselakis is all style and no substance and hasn’t outlined his political positions and that the rookie will find himself floundering pretty fast.
Mitsotakis called Kasselakis Monday to congratulate him and invite him to a photo opportunity meeting before the flour sifts down for the Leftists after the glow of victory goes away.
get-to-know meeting. He had done the same when Nikos Androulakis was elected leader of the socialist PASOK-Movement for Change in December 2021 but the latter had not accepted the invitation.
With Achtsioglou sidelined, hardcore Leftists in the party bewildered that a candidate whose background seemed tailor made for New Democracy is now their leader, analysts said Kasselakis will have to establish himself fast.
When Achtsioglou went to party headquarters after her 14-point rout, there were signs that all isn’t well and that rancor remains in the party as several young backers chanted an old slogan about rupture and disobedience.
When Kasselakis turned up shortly after, his supporters chanted “Stefanos, go ahead, change everything,” and there was tension in the air that could be a harbinger of what comes next for him.
There will be a quick test as Greece has local and regional elections on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15 and Nikos Androulakis, leader of the third-place party in Parliament – the center-left PASOK-KINAL is already nipping at his heels.
In June, 2024, elections will be held for the European Parliament – a SYRIZA lawmaker there, Stelios Kouloglou was the one who said Kasselakis’ win was the death knell for the leftists.