Spanish Podemos on the defensive as election calculation nears – POLITICO
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MADRID — A decade after bursting onto the scene, disrupting Spanish bipartisan politics and reinvigorating the country’s left, Podemos faces judgment.
With local elections for 12 of the country’s 17 regional parliaments and in the country’s municipalities on May 28, Podemos lacks strong leadership, its credibility being undermined by a failed legislative initiative and at odds with its leftist rivals. As a result, the party enters these elections weaker than at any time since its founding.
“These are elections that will decide whether or not Podemos will continue to represent a significant political space,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a researcher at the Institute of Political Studies (ICPS-UAB) in Barcelona. “Podemos has entered something akin to survival mode.”
Founded in 2014, Podemos channeled the anger of the Indignados protest movement that had emerged three years earlier. Like its Greek counterpart Syriza, Podemos capitalized on the discontent generated by the euro zone crisis. In 2015, it was the great electoral achievement in Spain as it took control, directly or through left-wing alliances, of major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, La Coruña and Zaragoza, and became the third largest party in parliament.
But more recently, as the junior partner of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in a coalition government, he has suffered an electoral decline that threatens to become a real crisis. Since 2020, it has had poor results in regional elections in Galicia, the Basque Country and Andalusia. Meanwhile, his failure to stop a resurgent right in the Madrid region in 2021 has sparked the withdrawal from politics of divisive party leader Pablo Iglesias.
His successor, Ione Belarra, the Minister of Social Rights, was less present. Maintaining high visibility in social media and news media, Iglesias has remained in the spotlight.
“Since leaving, Pablo Iglesias has behaved a bit like a leader in the shadows,” Bartomeus said. “A lot of times the party has evolved in a certain way not because of what the current leader, Ione Belarra, says, but rather because of what the supposed former leader of the party says.”
These elections take place shortly after the fallout of the so-called “Seul oui, c’est oui” law. This bill, overseen by fierce feminist Podemos, was intended to ensure consent in sexual relationships, but inadvertently led to the reduction of prison sentences for hundreds of sex offenders due to a loophole. This led to accusations of incompetence and the conservative leader of the People’s Party (PP), Alberto Núñez Feijóo, described it as “the law introduced in the democratic era that has done the most harm to women and children”.
Podemos refused to acknowledge serious technical flaws in the legislation and blamed the sentence reductions on socially conservative magistrates. The party found itself isolated when it voted against the reform of the law of the PSOE, which received the support of the PP.
While the backlash against this law is still fresh, Podemos enters this election with a bunker mentality, warning that the political, economic and media right are more determined than ever to bring about its demise.
“In this campaign, as has become normal over the past nine years, the slogan of the power in place is clear: get rid of Podemos; Podemos must be killed,” said the party’s spokesman in Congress, Pablo Echenique.
The major urban hubs where Podemos first made an impact will be a key barometer of its health on May 28. In Barcelona, his local coalition, En Comú Podem, is expected to do well in the municipal elections, while Podemos aims to gain representation. under its own brand for the first time in the town hall of Madrid.
However, the party could be in danger in the wider Madrid region, a major political prize. Polls show Podemos losing some or even all of its 10 parliamentary representatives as it is pressured by Más Madrid, a dissident party with which it has contentious relations.
During the election campaign, the party doubled down on its social justice platform, proposing the creation of more social housing, public supermarkets and free local transport. While campaigning in the working-class neighborhood of the capital, Vallecas, Belarra pointed to the siege mentality.
“These elections are about people trying to bring about the end of Podemos,” she said when asked by POLITICO if her party’s survival was at stake. it is only a wish and not a reality.”
As she strolled through the streets of Vallecas, a few dozen local residents cheered her on, chanting “If you can(Yes we can) in a return to the roots of the party in the Indignados movement.
Elena Guisado, a woman in her thirties who was among them, said Podemos “is the only party that emerged from this movement that has revolutionized Spain”. She added: “This idea has turned into a political party and it has concrete achievements.”
Nearby Mila Martínez, a bookseller who has voted for Podemos in the past, said she was unsure how she would vote this time. The unexpected fallout from the “Only yes means yes” law worries him, as well as Podemos’ clashes with other left-wing parties.
“The left must work together, it would have much more strength,” she said.
Divided we fall
This lack of unity was visible when local Podemos politicians staged lockdown protests in Gijón and Fuenlabrada in Madrid last month, demonstrating against electoral rolls imposed by their own party leadership.
But the emergence of Sumar, a new left-wing movement led by charismatic labor minister Yolanda Díaz, was a far bigger reminder of Spain’s left-wing weakness for infighting.
An independent who ran with Unidas Podemos – a joint electoral ticket including Podemos and the communist-led United Left (IU) – in the 2019 general election, Díaz presented a more conciliatory image to voters than Belarra’s party.
Although Sumar is not running in these local elections, Díaz said she intends to run for prime minister in the next general elections, scheduled for December. In the meantime, it has forged alliances with small regional leftist parties while keeping Podemos at bay. She does not want, says Podemos, to participate in a primary competition to choose a common left-wing candidate for prime minister.
The upcoming local elections will give an idea of the support currently enjoyed by the left and the right nationally, offering a clue as to the outcome of the legislative elections that follow. With Spain’s electoral system punishing split ballots harshly, whether Sumar and Podemos will eventually unite could prove crucial.
“Yolanda Díaz and her allies have to decide whether or not (Podemos) would be a drag on their ambitions,” said political commentator Fernando Lussón, adding that the decision could be heavily influenced by the outcome of these elections.