Kasselakis moves fast, SYRIZA breaks
A turbulent few days for SYRIZA have left the party languishing in third place in the opinion polls, the lowest the leftists have been in more than a decade, and facing yet more turmoil in the days ahead.
A survey by Opinion Poll for Action 24 TV indicated that SYRIZA’s support dropped below PASOK as the socialists grabbed second spot. It is the first time SYRIZA has not been the leading or second party in Greek politics for 11 years.
In terms of voting intentions, support for SYRIZA stood at 11.9 pct, while PASOK’s was at 12.9 pct. Both parties are a long way from New Democracy, which garnered 31.1 pct in the latest survey.
The poor ratings capped a traumatic few days for the opposition party, which began with a fractious meeting of SYRIZA’s central committee over the weekend. Party president Stefanos Kasselakis lit a flame under the meeting when he suggested that he would hold a plebiscite among party members to decide the fate of four officials facing expulsion for attacking the 35-year-old, rather than let the central committee oversee the disciplinary process.
Some within the party saw this is a crude power play by Kasselakis and his speech to committee members on Saturday was heckled and interrupted. The backlash against the proposed plebiscite prompted Kasselakis to pull back from his suggestion on Sunday. However, by that time, the Umbrella faction had already decided to quit the party.
The departure of the left-wing members had been the subject of considerable speculation in the local media over the past few days. The 45 members of the faction, including two MPs, represented on the 300-strong central committee argued that the party had moved away from its values under Kasselakis’s leadership.
Kasselakis responded by suggesting that the Umbrella faction’s departure marked the start of genuine unity within the party. He insisted that there is no place in SYRIZA for those who attack the left-wing grouping and its leader from within. He also demanded that the two departing MPs abide by the party’s code of conduct by handing back their parliamentary seats, which the rebels showed no sign of wanting to do.
His reaction appears to support the theory that Kasselakis is seeking confrontation with some party officials on purpose in order to force them out of SYRIZA so he can have more wiggle room in terms of who to appoint and what direction he would like to take the party in.
However, this strategy carries many risks for the SYRIZA chief as the division visible now could be deemed terminal for the party’s prospects if voters sense that the rift will only grow over the coming months and there is no genuine chance of the opposition staging a comeback.
If the number of breakaway MPs reaches 10, which some calculations suggest is likely, it would open the possibility of forming a new parliamentary party, rather than operating as independents. It is unclear whether they would choose to take that course, as it is evident that their views are not totally aligned among themselves.
An alliance with other forces of the left also looks unlikely for the moment, after three minor leftist parties, themselves splinter groups of SYRIZA, poured cold water on the suggestion in a string of humiliating public statements.
The events could leave the second largest party decimated, with a substantially reduced representation in parliament from the 47 seats they managed to hang on to the June elections. This would of course further strengthen New Democracy, while the task of mounting an effective opposition would hinge on some kind of recombination of powers in the left and centre-left which for now seems far from obvious.
A steady trickle of exits from SYRIZA followed the weekend’s events. Kasselakis is insistent, though, that SYRIZA needs a shake-up in order to rekindle voters’ interests. One of the initiatives that the SYRIZA leader has announced aimed at opening up the party to new ideas and people is the creation of 27 thematic “think-tanks”, which will act as forums for discussion of policy ideas. The opposition chief announced that the party will begin accepting online applications from people interested in participating in these bodies.
Despite his abrasive speech at the meeting of SYRIZA’s central committee over the weekend, Kasselakis insisted that he is willing to work with his rival for the leadership Efi Achtsioglou and the small group of SYRIZA frontline officials that are close to her. Whether the former labour minister is willing to accept Kasselakis’s “hand of friendship” remains to be seen.
Achtsioglou, a former labour minister, has so far adopted a careful balance between being visibly sceptical about her victorious rival but not being outright antagonistic towards him. It could be that some senior figures in SYRIZA believe that Kasselakis’s days at the helm of the party could be numbered after he opted for a confrontational approach, and they are biding their time until his downfall.