Tsipras sweeps to helm of party

Alexis Tsipras was elected yesterday to be the new leader of Synaspismos Left Coalition and, at the age of 33, became the youngest leader by far of the parties represented in Parliament. Tsipras was the overwhelming choice to succeed Alekos Alavanos, who stepped aside for personal reasons. Just over 70 percent of some 1,200 delegates at the party’s conference, which ended in Athens yesterday, voted for the relative newcomer. His rival for the leadership, Fotis Kouvelis, received less than 29 percent of the vote. «Thank you for giving me a strong mandate… We all have to live up to the high expectations of people on the Left and the high expectations of society,» Tsipras told delegates at the Synaspismos conference. Synaspismos is the main party in the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which won just over 5 percent of the popular vote in last September’s general election and doubled its parliamentary seats to 14. Tsipras, who is not an MP, is now the most junior of Greece’s political leaders, reflecting SYRIZA’s focus on attracting disaffected young Greeks to its ranks. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is 51 years old, although he became leader of New Democracy at the age of 40, which at the time was considered to be quite young by the standards of the Greek political scene. George Papandreou of PASOK is 55; Aleka Papariga, the leader of the Communist Party, is 62 and has been at the helm since 1991. Giorgos Karatzaferis, the head of the right-wing nationalist LAOS, is 61. «The Left cannot just be found in party conferences and political offices,» said Tsipras. «It is, above all, in the front line of the social battles. Society is going through tough times and we have to give people new hope.» During his campaign to become party leader, Tsipras ruled out the possibility of wholesale cooperation between SYRIZA and PASOK or the Communist Party but he did leave open the possibility of them working together on «certain issues.» Tsipras rose to political prominence in October 2006 when he stood as Synaspismos’s candidate for Athens mayor. Although the former civil engineer came in third, he garnered more than 10 percent of the vote and was marked out as a rising star in Greek politics.