Ex-Goldman Sachs trader to lead Greece's leftist Syriza party

Stefanos Kasselakis speaks to journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station, during the Greek leftist party Syriza's election for a new leader, in Athens, Greece, September 24, 2023. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi

ATHENS (Reuters) -Former Goldman Sachs associate and political novice Stefanos Kasselakis on Sunday was elected leader of Greece's leftist Syriza party, the country's main opposition, which is hoping for a comeback after a heavy defeat in a national election.

Syriza was catapulted to power at the height of Greece's debt crisis in 2015, but lost to the conservative New Democracy party in 2019 and in June 2023.

Kasselakis, 35, who describes himself as a self-made shipping entrepreneur, was racing against Effie Achtsioglou, 38, a lawyer and former labour minister.

With 75% of the vote counted, he won 56.7% versus 43.3% for Achtsioglou, state TV ERT said, in an election where members directly voted for their leader.

Kasselakis, who spent more than two decades in the United States and once worked as a volunteer in the 2008 U.S. Democratic primaries for then-Senator Joe Biden, has little political experience.

He ran on Syriza's national ticket in the June election but was not elected. He launched his leadership bid in late August.

Kasselakis replaces Alexis Tsipras, a firebrand leftist whose anti-austerity rhetoric rallied voters around Syriza during the debt crisis.

After coming to power, Tsipras was forced to accept a third international bailout and more austerity. He resigned in June after Syriza won just 18% of the vote.

Kasselakis emerged as the frontrunner of the first round of voting on Sept. 16, running a slick social media campaign promising to end New Democracy's hold on power, and beating five candidates - most of them high-ranking Syriza members.

His candidacy split Syriza supporters ahead of the vote, many of whom said his profile did not fit the traditional Left. His victory has also shaken his centre-left and conservative political opponents who see him as a threat.

"If I hadn't known capitalism from inside, if I hadn't seen the injustice of money, I may had not been a leftist," he said on Facebook this month.

One of Tsipras' closest aides and a former minister, Nikos Pappas, sided with Kasselakis in the runoff vote.

Married to nurse Tyler Macbeth since 2019, Kasselakis has said that "Greek people are ready to have a prime minister who is capable, incorruptible, unscathed and happens to be gay."

Achtsioglou, the main negotiator with Greece's foreign lenders on labour issues in 2016-2019, accused him of ignorance on foreign policy issues after a perceived blunder over ethnically-split Cyprus.

Kasselakis lack of political experience was on full display this week, dropping a diplomatic boo-boo for Greeks when he referred to the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a statelet rather than what most Greeks describe as a pseudo-state.

He later put it down to fatigue and being unfamiliar with the language.

Since Kasselakis is not a lawmaker, he will most likely need to appoint a party deputy to lead Syriza's parliamentary group.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Michele Kambas, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Chizu Nomiyama)

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