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The boyish Prime Minister out to restore Greece's luck

Who is Alexis Tsipra?

Greece Election Source: AP/Press Association Images

ALEXIS TSIPRAS IS on a mission to restore Greece’s dignity after winning Sunday’s general election and becoming his country’s youngest prime minister in 150 years.

The 40-year-old father of two children brings to the job a burning passion to dump the austerity policies that his party says have brought a “humanitarian crisis” to Greece, and he knows he has little time to lose.

“It would be good to speed up the procedure because we have an uphill road ahead,” he told President Karolos Papoulias as he received his mandate to form a government.

Our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny extended his congratulations to Tsipras today, on behalf of the Irish Government.

“I look forward to working with him at the European Council and I wish him and his Government all the best in the challenges they face,” he said.

We will no doubt be working together along with all European leaders in securing stability, jobs and prosperity for all the citizens of the European Union.

On his first day as prime minister, Tsipras showed he is big on symbolism.

His first act following his investiture was to lay flowers at the Kaisariani shooting range in Athens, where dozens of Greek leftists were executed by German occupation troops in 1944.

Tsipras also became the first Greek prime minister to take a civil rather than religious oath of office, and to dispense with a tie at the ceremony.

“Humiliation”

In his victory speech on Sunday, he pledged to end the “humiliation” and “vicious circle” of austerity for the good of Greece and other European nations.

The young leader will govern in a coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party after securing 149 seats in Sunday’s election, two short of the required majority in the 300-seat parliament.

Greece Election Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

Tsipras, whose party was just 170,000 votes short of victory in the 2012 election, has come a long way from his days as a Communist youth activist.

The Greek public first learned his name in 1990 when as a 17-year-old he led a school sit-in and told a TV interviewer: “We want the right to judge for ourselves whether to skip class.”

An engineer by training, Tsipras was born in an Athens suburb in July 1974, a fateful year for Greece. It marked the collapse of a seven-year army dictatorship that mercilessly persecuted leftists and Communists, and culminated in a bloody crackdown against a student uprising.

The boyish father of two children who admires Che Guevara — naming his second son Orpheus Ernesto — has subtly modified his image as power and responsibility beckoned.

He has made efforts to improve his English and sought to boost his international standing through meetings with Pope Francis, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and even Wolfgang Schaeuble, finance minister of Greece’s fiscal nemesis Germany.

One thing has not changed — Tsipras’ shirts are likely to remain open-necked. On the eve of voting, he joked: “I’ll put a tie on when we get a haircut (debt reduction).”

Greece Election Source: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/Press Association Images

Tsipras faced his first crisis in 2008 when Athens and other cities were rocked by youth riots following the fatal shooting of a teenage boy by a policeman.

Syriza gave the rioters political backing but the move backfired and in the next election the party took less than five percent of the vote.

But when the economic crisis engulfed Greece in 2010, plunging the country into the worst recession in memory, voters were more inclined to listen to Syriza.

He has accused the conservative-led coalition government of “denying reality” by “dogmatically” adhering to a failed austerity recipe that has left over one million people unemployed in a country of 11 million.

In three years, Syriza’s support has increased five-fold.

Painful fiscal efforts

The outgoing conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have argued that a Syriza government would overturn years of painful fiscal efforts just as Greece is about to reap the benefits.

But Tsipras turned the argument on its head, wondering how the conservatives could possibly promise to safeguard Greek incomes after imposing a barrage of taxes in the last two years.

“The only thing they have not said is that Syriza will round up children and steal wives,” he joked at one rally.

Syriza pledges to raise salaries and pensions, halt layoffs and freeze the privatisation of state assets, reversing key reforms demanded by Greece’s EU-IMF creditors.

Even more crucially for its relations with Greece’s EU peers, the party wants to renegotiate the 240-billion-euro ($269 billion) EU-IMF bailout, erase over 50 percent of the country’s enormous debt and divert bond repayment funds to the country’s economic recovery.

© – AFP, 2015

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