Ex-Goldman Sachs trader eyes top job in Greece's leftist party

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Political novice and a former minister in leadership run-off

Syriza hopes new leader can help party’s revival

Former leader Alexis Tsipras resigned after June election defeat

ATHENS, Sept 24 (Reuters) -A former minister and a political novice slug it out on Sunday for the leadership of Greece's leftist Syriza party, the country's main opposition which is hoping for a comeback after a heavy defeat in this year's 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.

Sunday's runoff vote pits newcomer Stefanos Kasselakis, 35, a former Goldman Sachs associate and shipping enterpreneur, against Effie Achtsioglou, 38, a lawyer and former labour minister.

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, emerged as the frontrunner of the first round of voting on Sept. 16.

The winner of Sunday's vote will replace Alexis Tsipras, a firebrand leftist whose anti-austerity rhetoric rallied voters around Syriza during the debt crisis.

But once in power, the shine soon wore off when Tsipras was forced to accept a third international bailout and more austerity. Tsipras resigned in June after Syriza won just 18% of the vote.

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Kasselakis, who is not a lawmaker, launched his leadership bid in August.

Running a slick social media campaign promising to end New Democracy's hold on power, he beat five candidates - most of them high-ranking Syriza members - and got 45% of the vote from 147,000 party members on Sept. 16.

Kasselakis' candidacy split Syriza supporters ahead of the vote, many of whom said his profile did not fit the traditional Left. His initial victory has also shaken his 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.

Achtsioglou, the main negotiator with Greece's foreign lenders on labour issues in 2016-2019, says her plan, experience and parliamentary presence can help lead Syriza to victory again.

"Syriza and I, can do it," she said on Facebook on Friday. "We are not playing with politics, we are making policy".

She announced her bid in July and won 36% of the vote last week, leaving behind former finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Tsipras' once closest aide Nikos Pappas, who now backs Kasselakis.

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."

If he wins on Sunday, he will most likely need to appoint a lawmaker to lead Syriza's parliamentary group.

Polling stations will close at 1700 GMT.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Michele Kambas and Emelia Sithole-Matarise


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