Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras quits as Syriza party head

Announcement comes after main opposition party suffered staggering electoral defeat in parliamentary election.

Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras makes a televised statement on June 25 after Greece's election [Angelos Tzortzinis/Pool via Reuters]

Former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced he will be stepping down as leader of the leftist main opposition Syriza party following a staggering defeat in a parliamentary election.

“The time has come to start a new cycle,” Tsipras said in a televised address on Thursday, days after conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis was given another four years as prime minister.

“The negative result can – and must – become the beginning of this cycle,” said Tsipras.

The 48-year-old said he was resigning to pave the way for elections for a new party leader and that he would not be a candidate, adding that a reform of Syriza was necessary.

“This difficult journey had compromises, and difficult decisions, and injuries and attrition, but it was a journey that left a mark on history,” he said, adding that he was “proud of everything that happened.”

Tsipras took over as leader of the then-small Syriza party in 2008, at the age of 34. One year later, he was elected to parliament.

He led it to an electoral triumph in January 2015, at the height of Greece’s deep economic crisis. One of Greece’s youngest ever prime ministers, Tsipras rode a wave of anti-austerity and anti-bailout anger among many in the country.

After months of fierce fighting with other eurozone countries, Tsipras was forced in June 2015 to impose capital controls. The following month, he won a referendum urging Greeks to reject an offered bailout, but made a U-turn and signed up to a tougher programme a month later.

He then called a snap election for September 2015, which he won, but lost to Mitsotakis’s New Democracy four years later.

In Sunday’s vote, New Democracy won 40.5 percent of the popular vote, giving it 158 seats in the 300-seat parliament. Syriza trailed with 17.8 percent of the vote.

The crushing defeat in the latest electoral round came as no surprise. New Democracy won a similar victory five weeks earlier but chose not to form a government under the system of proportional representation in force at the time, which gave it slightly less than a majority in parliament with 145 seats.

Despite multiple scandals during Mitsotakis’s time in office, including the wiretapping of some of his closest ministers by the security services, and a rail disaster, his support has been especially strong among small businesses and the self-employed, who together provide 90 percent of private sector employment.

Sunday’s vote came just over a week after a refugee ship capsized and sank off the western coast of Greece, leaving hundreds of people dead and missing, and calling into question the actions of Greek authorities and the country’s strict migration policy.

But the disaster, one of the worst in the Mediterranean Sea in recent years, did not heavily influence the election, with domestic economic issues at the forefront of voters’ minds.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies