10 things to know about Greek Prime Minister-elect Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras addressing supporters after his party's victory in the Greek general election.
Alexis Tsipras addressing supporters after his party's victory in the Greek general election. PHOTO: AFP

Greece's radical leftist leader Alexis Tsipras pulled off the biggest gamble of his dramatic political career when he romped to victory in a snap election on Sunday (Sept 20).

Many had thought his U-turn in signing a painful austerity deal with creditors days after he called a referendum to reject it would cost him dearly. But in the end, Greeks seemed to trust their rookie former prime minister more than the traditional parties that created the economic mess the country is now in.

Here are 10 things to know about the Greek leader.

1. Mr Tsipras was born in Athens on July 28, 1974, four days after the fall of the Greek military junta that had ruled the country for seven years. He grew up in a well-off family and his father was a civil engineer.

2. Living near the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium of his favourite football club Panathinaikos, the young Alexis initially seemed more interested in sport than in politics. But that changed when he joined the Young Communists Society in school and developed his talent for rhetoric. When the government proposed a new education privatisation Bill in 1990, Mr Tsipras, then 16 years old, led an occupation of his school to oppose the reforms, locking teachers and other pupils out. In a television interview, he showed his aptitude for challenging authority. "We want the right to judge for ourselves whether to skip class," he said.

3. After high school, he entered the National Technical University of Athens to study civil engineering and was an active member of the leftist student union. He then joined the Synaspismos party, a bloc of small leftist and green parties which later became the Syriza party.

4. In 2006 at age 32, he ran for mayor of Athens. He lost but received almost 11 per cent of the vote - more than double what the party was polling elsewhere. A profile in the Financial Times said that this was the moment that "would transform Mr Tsipras' career. Any thoughts of an engineering career ended. He was now the face of the party".

5. Mr Tsipras was overwhelmingly elected party leader in 2008, making him Greece's youngest political leader at the age of 34. The following year, he was elected to the Greek Parliament and became Syriza's leader there, beginning his march towards becoming prime minister as Greece's economy descended into chaos.

6. In January this year, he led Syriza to victory in the general election on the promise of tearing up the previous bailout deals and implementing an alternative plan to counter the debt crisis. Then 40 years old, he was elected with 36.34 per cent of the vote, becoming Greece's youngest prime minister in 150 years. He broke with tradition by refusing to take a religious oath, saying it was against his atheist principles.

7. During his roller coaster seven months in power, he infuriated international creditors and European partners by playing an erratic game, charging from one extreme to another. One moment he agreed to bailout terms with the creditors and the next he savaged them for trying to humiliate his country.

8. In July, Mr Tsipras took one of his boldest gambles by agreeing to the kind of tough reforms he and a clear majority of Greeks had rejected in a referendum in exchange for a new €86-billion (S$136-billion) bailout to keep the country afloat. Days later, 25 hardline Syriza Members of Parliament quit the party, stripping him of his parliamentary majority. He stepped down as Prime Minister on Aug 20, calling a new election in the hope of returning in a stronger position.

9. He is both approachable and rebellious, as seen in his penchant for motorbikes and dislike for ties. He once said he would wear a tie when Greece gets its debts written off.

10. It was at high school that he met Ms Betty Baziana when both joined the Young Communists Society. They have never married despite the country's strong conservative traditions. Ms Baziana is seen as even more radical than Mr Tsipras, and he has hinted that she might leave him if he does not hold his firm line with Greece's creditors. The couple have two sons, Phoebus and Orpheus.

SOURCES: INDEPENDENT, AFP, REUTERS, BBC