Who is Alexis Tsipras?

UPDATE (6-16-12):  We originally (and mistakenly!) used a photo from this photographer — he has some strikingly amazing photos of Greece and its political scene, so everyone should go check them out, especially one day away from the next Greek elections.

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With New Democracy unable to form a coalition government, the spotlight now falls on the newest star of the Greek — and European — political scene to take a stab at forming a new government.

Although it remains unlikely that he can do so, there’s no doubting that Alexis Tsipras will be a key player in the next act of the Greek drama unfolding before a global audience.

Tsipras is the leader of SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς), which outperformed polls and finished second in Sunday’s election with 16.78% of the vote and 52 seats in the Hellenic parliament, quadrupling SYRIZA’s vote share in the previous 2009 legislative elections.

SYRIZA is technically a coalition of parties, of which Tsipras’s own Synaspismos is the largest member, and has contested Greek elections as a coalition since 2004, when it won its first six seats.  Tsipras, who scored third place in the 2006 Athens mayoral race, became SYRIZA’s leader in 2008 and has been a member of Greece’s parliament since 2009.

In a political world that’s been full of old men named Samaris, Papandreou and Karamanlis for nearly a century, the 38-year-old Tsipras — he was born four days after the fall of Greece’s military dictatorship in 1974 and is a civil engineer by training — sticks out as a fresh face and the undisputed face of the left’s anti-bailout sentiment:

A cool, mild mannered politician who shuns neck ties and likes to get around on his motorcycle, Tsipras can be a fiery orator in parliament, railing against austerity.  Often blamed by the socialists for inciting violent protests, he has promised to freeze payments to creditors and renegotiate measures included in Greece’s latest rescue package.

Commentators believe that if a second round of elections occurs, Tsipras will have enough political momentum to command enough seats to form a government:

Spiros Rizopoulos, a political communications strategist and chief executive of Spin Communications, thinks that a second round of elections is inevitable and would likely favor SYRIZA at the expense of the country’s two mainstream parties.

“Tsipras will do better in a second round. He has momentum at a time when people are ready to listen to anything,” said Rizopoulos. “If he is smart, he will start moving to the center. But politics is all about momentum and he has got the momentum.”

Two years of harsh austerity measures, adopted by Greece in exchange for successive bailouts from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, have pushed the economy deep into recession.

If Tsipras is successful, he may yet transform SYRIZA into the main vehicle of the Greek left, displacing the longtime socialist PASOK, which has supported the harsh budget cuts and various rounds of bailouts since it won the 2009 legislative election.

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