From Goldman Sachs to Syriza

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After terrible months for Syriza, which suffered a painful electoral defeat in the elections held in June, an unexpected candidate has surprised in the first round of the primaries to succeed Alexis Tsipras at the head of the Greek radical left formation.

The big favorite was the deputy and former Minister of Labor Efi Ajtsioglu. But, against all odds, she was surpassed by a businessman and investor in the maritime sector Stefanos Kasselakis, only 35 years old and with a past at Goldman Sachs, who has only been a member of the party for a month. In the first round last Sunday Kasselakis obtained 45% of the nearly 150,000 votes cast, while Ajtsioglu stopped at 36%. Both will compete for the position in the second round that will take place this weekend.

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His figure arouses suspicion in the party: there are those who think he could be a Trojan horse to destroy the left

Kasselakis burst onto the Greek political scene at the end of August, with a four-minute video in which he introduced himself to the Greeks. “My name is Stefanos and I have something to tell you. I was born in Marousi in 1988. In a country of dynasties. In a family with parents who worked for their success,” he began. “I am aware that I do not have match experience. My experience is in work and social life. Therefore, the candidacy that I am carrying out shows another path: from society, for society,” he continued. The video quickly went viral and was reproduced by several media outlets.

His figure has many new elements for the game. Although he spent his childhood in Greece, he left with his family for the US when he was only fourteen years old. His father was a majority shareholder in a shipping company and was experiencing financial difficulties. He has also said that he left out of necessity. Not only because of the financial problems that his family was experiencing, but because he felt trapped in a society as conservative as the Greek one due to his sexual orientation. Kasselakis, who is the first openly gay candidate to run for the head of a Greek party, is married to an American nurse, whom he also introduces in his introduction video.

Once in the United States, thanks to his brilliant academic resume – he had won a scholarship thanks to having represented Greece in a mathematics competition in the Balkans – he was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Pennsylvania. While studying, in 2008, he participated as a volunteer in the primaries for the presidential campaign of then Senator Joe Biden. Later, in 2009, in the midst of the Greek financial crisis, he began working as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in London and New York, but he left a few years later because, as he said, he realized “how much arrogance money carries.” . He also worked in think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, and later founded his own company in the maritime sector.

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But Kasselakis will not have it easy. Since announcing his candidacy, many skeptics have emerged against him within Syriza, and some analysts fear that his victory could spark another split within Greece's weakened left. He has received criticism of all kinds, from that his approach to politics is too superficial to that he prefers publicity tactics to the collective processes of the parties. There are even those who think that he could be a Trojan horse for the interests of the US and capitalism to prevent that Greek left that managed to gain a foothold among voters outraged by the debt crisis from returning to power.

“It was a surprise, but a good surprise because as he is young, attractive to the media and outsider", has renewed attention to a party that after the electoral defeats was in a very deep crisis," says the professor of Comparative Politics at the Macedonian University of Thessaloniki, Yorgos Christidis, recalling the deep crisis that Syriza was experiencing since Tsipras resigned. after obtaining only 17.8% of the votes, far surpassed by the conservative Kiriakos Mitsotakis, who achieved the absolute majority with more than 40% of the ballots. “It will be a tight result, but this process is bringing new air to Syriza, which needed it very much,” adds the expert.

The winner of the first round

Stefanos Kasselakis (above) casts his vote in the ballot box during the first round of the primaries to lead Syriza, last Sunday in Athens. He came first, ahead of former Labor Minister Efi Ajtsioglu (below) and former Finance Minister Efklidis Tsakalotos.

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