The rank and file of Syriza have decided to change the pace and move away from the traditional line of the Greek left. This is deduced from the result of the second round of the primaries that took place this Sunday. Stefanos Kaselakis, a 35-year-old gay and liberal former Goldman Sachs executive, beat 38-year-old lawyer and left-wing activist Efi Ajchioglu by a wide margin. With 70% of the votes counted, the new leader of the party obtained 56% of support, compared to 44% of his rival, so Syriza made the result official.
Kaselakis does not fit the image or the classical language of the Greek left. He is 35 years old, married to another man — in the United States, because Greece does not allow same-sex marriage — and has a longer and more successful career in business than in politics. He worked at Goldman Sachs and was CEO of a shipping company. In the only elections in which he stood as a Syriza candidate, those of last June, he did not occupy a prominent position and did not win a seat. Then he was unknown to most of the party militants who this Sunday elected him as the new leader.
By motorcycle, at midnight, the winner arrived at the headquarters of the party. He couldn't smile anymore. There were dozens of supporters, especially young people, who shouted: "Estéfanos, change everything!" He replied, "We will change it together." His first words were for the victims of the dana Daniel, who have not yet recovered their homes. "Today, light and hope for the future have gained," he declared, "so that our young people do not have to continue going abroad." Before concluding her speech, Kaselakis hugged her husband – whom the Greek media refer to as "her partner". Just before, he was told in English, "Tyler, you are the reason I am here."
The contender against Kaselakis, Efi Akhtsioglu, represented the continuity option; the one that bet on coherence with the aesthetics – and ethics – of what became, in 2015, the most powerful party in Europe to the left of social democracy. This 38-year-old lawyer has a long political career. She began to serve in the youth of the formation and was minister of labor in the last legislature chaired by Alexis Tsipras. Until the emergence of the Kaselakis phenomenon, all sectors of the party assumed that she would be the leader for the next few years.
In the campaign for these primaries, Kaselakis has shown enormous communicative effectiveness. His team of collaborators has flooded social networks with his videos and has managed to combine formal records with pills in which the candidate showed personal aspects of his life. Mastering the art of launching his message is no small merit in a country in which both supporters and detractors emphasize that the main weapon of the current prime minister is his powerful communication equipment. Therefore, internal Syriza sources consider that the virtue of the winner is that he can be "the Mitsotakis of the left".
In the 538 polling stations set up throughout the country, 188,000 members had the right to vote. They did just over 133,000, about 13,000 fewer than in the first round. Although last Sunday, when almost 147,000 members voted, the party's spokesmen made an effort to use expressions such as "historic appointment" and "spectacular participation", the truth is that the numbers were similar to the last re-election of Tsipras in 2022. Although his mandate was four years, the historic leader resigned after the bad result in the double electoral appointment of May and June.
The commitment to Kaselakis has an obvious political reading. It is a bet for something new in the face of painful defeats. It is also a bid to challenge Mitsotakis for the political center. The current prime minister has deployed policies that are not easy to place on the right-left axis. On the one hand, with regard to migration policies, it has marked a very hard profile that competes with the extreme right formations. But his economic policies combine elements of liberalism with the generalization of subsidies. In this way, Mitsotakis got the vote of sectors that traditionally do not vote to the right.
Syriza's shift to the centre is not new. When Alexis Tsipras won his first election in 2015, Syriza was the acronym for "Coalition of the Radical Left." In 2012, it ceased to be a coalition, but kept a name. In 2019, they added the acronym PS, which in Greek stands for "Progressive Alliance". The move from considering themselves progressive instead of radical left was accompanied by the incorporation of certain figures from Pasok, the socialist party. The election of Kaselakis is another step in that direction. Syriza wants to conquer the political space of Pasok – which is today the third force with 11% of the votes – to become the only left-wing reference capable of winning an election.
Efi Akhtsioglu has reacted completely differently to when he learned he had not won the first round. Then, he said the militants did not know what they had voted for. This Sunday, however, she did not even wait for the results to be official and was among the first to call her opponent to congratulate him on the victory. In addition, he posed smiling before the cameras and declared that the party must carry out a united and firm opposition. It is a gesture that has a clear objective: to sew up the wounds left by a campaign in which the candidates have received harsh attacks and both have denounced irregular tactics by the other.
His main difficulty now is that he is not a Member of Parliament. How to lead the opposition from outside the Chamber? For him to enter parliament, four deputies would have to resign and two of them, Eleni Akritas and Ozon Iliopoulos, have already declared that they are not willing to leave their seats.
His other big challenge is to take control of a party he barely knows inside. To this end, it relies above all on the experience of MEPs Pavlos Polakis and Nikos Pappas, as well as Tsipras, Yorgos and Alexis. Syriza sources have assured this newspaper that the former prime minister has already told Kaselakis that he is at his disposal to help him build the alternative that defeats Mitsotakis.
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