By Satyaki Chakraborty
In an event of huge political significance for Greece as also Europe, an outsider Stephanos Kasselakis, with no previous experience in the politics of Greece was elected as the President of the Syriza, the main leftwing opposition party in the Greece which ruled the country from 2015 to 2019 as the leader of a leftwing coalition.
The Greek-American entrepreneur, who announced his candidacy for the post barely a month ago, received 56.69% of the vote against 43.31% for Efi Achtsioglou, a former labour minister who had long been viewed as the favourite. Kasselakis replaced the former prime minister Alexis Tsipras , a former communist party member who built the Syriza and stormed to power in 2015 elections.
Syriza has been so long known as the left wing party having many members who were once connected with the Communist Party of Greece as also with its labour and student wings. In the recent national elections, Syriza fared badly leading to disappointment among its supporters. After Tsipras’s resignation, Syriza was looking for a leader who can energise the demoralized ranks. The 35 year old Kasselakis joined the election fray with his new programme to impart a centrist focus to the Syriza known for its leftist approach.
Amid jubilant scenes outside Syriza’s headquarters in Athens on Sunday September 24 night the 35-year-old leader told supporters: “Today light won and hope collectively, hope for the future … I am not a phenomenon. I am the voice of a society and I’m not going to let you down. Tomorrow the hard work begins.” The new Syriza head aroused big interest in his short campaign and his programme attracted the young in such a way that the victory was unprecedented signalling that most of the Syriza members gave the newcomer a big welcome.
The Greek-American has indicated that he will apply root-and-branch change to Syriza, a progressive alliance that includes Marxists, Euro-communists, ecologists and social democrats. He has stated that if the party ever wants to taste power again it should “just copy the US formula as soon as possible” by transforming into a “big tent” US-style Democratic Party.
Among the array of policy priorities proposed by the businessman were “drastic” tax relief for private and public sector employees, the separation of church and state, judicial reforms, citizenship for migrant children born and brought up in Greece and legalising same-sex marriage. The Syriza members are looking for more focused policy announcement from the new leader but Kasselakis has promised that he will come out with more after he officially takes over as the party chief.
The election of a businessman with no political background as party chief has shocked the traditional left leaders of Syriza. “This is the end of leftwing Syriza as we know it,” Stelios Kouloglou, a Syriza MEP said after the results were out. “That party died tonight. Kasselakis will make huge changes and in the future case studies will be conducted because what he has pulled off is so stunning. He appeared almost from nowhere and now is in charge. It’s crazy, a scenario that no one would have believed a few months ago.”
As against this, the young supporters of the new President said that Kasselakis is young and full of ideas who has the potential to defeat the present prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotkis. They said that more new people will now join Syriza and the Party will once again be in a position to challenge the ruling right party. The new youth brigade of the elected leader are projecting Kasselakis as their new messiah who will take out the Syriza from stagnation and decline since 2019.
Political analysts of Greece are of the view tht in the coming days a section of the party belonging to the traditional left may leave Syriza and join KTE, the Communist Party of Greece which improved its position in the last national elections. The issue is how the labour unions belonging to Syriza look at the new president? In any case, the main opposition party is undergoing transformation. One has to wait for some more time to arrive at any conclusion. (IPA Service)