A ‘stranger’ becomes Greek left boss, shakes political system – EURACTIV.com

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Analysts and political parties are still trying to understand how a 35-year-old US resident and businessman, previously unknown in Greece, managed to win the main opposition Syriza party’s leadership in what is described as a “metapolitics” phenomenon.

Stefanos Kasselakis was born in Greece but migrated to the US at the age of 14 after he received a full scholarship to Phillips Academy High School in Andover, Massachusetts.

According to his CV, after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he followed a successful career in the shipping industry and worked for Goldman Sachs.

Meanwhile, he also volunteered on the staff of then-Senator Joe Biden for the 2008 Presidential Election.

On Sunday (24 September), after a toxic and quite intense pre-election debate, he won the second round of Greece’s main opposition Syriza party leadership, getting 57% of the vote against his contester Efi Achtsioglou – considered a traditional leftist – who scored 43%.

A month ago, Kasselakis was unknown in Greece. At the last minute, he entered the race for Syriza’s leadership and questioned Achtsioglou’s initially seemingly easy victory.

Thanks to a successful and smart social media campaign, he became the talk of the town within a weekend. But Kasselakis has nothing to do with Greek politics, let alone the left.

His campaign, however, managed to bring more than 40,000 new voters to the ailing Greek left which has been trying to get on its feet again after the electoral disaster last July by the conservative New Democracy party (EPP) that led to the resignation of former leader and prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Analysts and political parties are trying to analyse why voters picked Kasselakis and essentially turned their back on the traditional and mainstream political establishment.

Some describe it as a “metapolitics” phenomenon introduced in Europe for the first time using solely social media to campaign.

Others insist that his simple rhetoric away from the “political language” attracted voters who are fed up with Greek politicians.

Many also focus on the fact that he started his career and progressed from scratch, something unusual for the Greek nepotism-driven political establishment.

The next day will be tough

Politically inexperienced, Kasselakis will now have difficult days: first, he must establish himself as a leader within a highly divided party and, secondly, face a powerful conservative government.

Syriza MEP Stelios Kouloglou described Kasselakis as a “paratrooper into enemy territory” who doesn’t know the left, and the left doesn’t know what political views he stands for.

“But he was the only one who told the electorate that he is going to take down Mitsotakis […] such a message was much needed for leftist voters”, Kouloglou told Euractiv.

Another obstacle will be that he is not a lawmaker and, therefore, won’t be able to participate in parliamentary discussions.

Most traditional leftist figures did not stand by Kasselakis but backed politically known Achtsioglou who is also known in Brussels circles thanks to her previous ministerial post.

The EU Left, which has been facing turmoil and splits across the bloc, prioritises the party’s unity.

“We stand ready to collaborate with whoever is elected […] We need a united Syriza to take down PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis”, an EU Left official told Euractiv last week.

Kasselakis will also be Greece’s first, openly gay political party leader.

EU left urges for unity in Greece’s Syriza after elections

Greece’s main opposition force, Syriza, must remain united after the internal elections on Sunday (24 September) to be able to “take down” conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an official of the EU Left told Euractiv amid growing internal tensions in the leftist Greek party.

Temporary peace?

The highly divisive rhetoric before the elections prompted many analysts and politicians to say a party split is possible after the elections.

However, since last Friday, the aggressive rhetoric has been lowered, and influential leftist figures are now discussing the need for unity.

Read more: ‘Tsipras miracle’ happened once: Greek left on the brink of collapse

Considering massive voter participation, some suggest that it would be political suicide for someone to put the party’s unity to the test, at least for now.

The liberal profile raises eyebrows

Several Greek media criticised the fact that in his first statement, Kasselakis did not mention the word “left” and instead focused on vague economy-related words.

“I am not a phenomenon. I am the voice of a society that I respect”, Kasselakis said.

In his speech, Kasselakis said his victory would bring “light to defeat the financial shackles of the economic system”.

His progressive liberal profile has not been unnoticed by the conservative New Democracy government, as Prime Minister Mitsotakis is currently considered the only elected politician representing the centre pro-business part of Greece’s political spectrum.

In the last years, Greek economy’s performance has improved significantly following years of austerity and lack of investments.

However, critics point to the fact that economic growth remains limited to closed circle of traditional domestic families and businessmen.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)

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