Hey, Pablo Iglesias
THEY chanted and sang and promised happiness. But after Spain’s radical Podemos (“We Can”) party chose its leaders on November 15th it remained remarkably thin on policy. “There is still much to do,” admitted the party leader, Pablo Iglesias, after 89% of the party’s 107,000 internet voters had ticked his name.
The rise of Podemos is a triumph for Mr Iglesias and the technologically astute university lecturers and activists who designed, launched and kept control of the party in its first ten months. It also marks the resurgence of the indignados, protesters who peacefully took over city squares in May 2011, two-and-a-half years after Spain first plunged into the economic dumps.
The sputtering engine
A commonsense victory
A three-cornered hat
Buying their way in
It has taken years of chronic unemployment, a banking bail-out, a second dip into recession (now over) and a flood of corruption cases to see the amorphous indignados take shape in party politics. In opinion polls support for Podemos has surged as high as 28%. But turning this into real votes may yet prove difficult.
Podemos stood for its first elections, to the European Parliament, in May and took 8% of the vote. Just six months later it is neck-and-neck in the polls with both the Popular Party (PP) led by Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s less-than popular prime minister, and the stuttering opposition Socialists. Along the way it has sunk Spain’s communist-led United Left (IU) coalition.
Mr Iglesias promises a new politics, beyond the left-right paradigm. Yet many are sceptical. Some senior party members come from groups with names like Youth with No Future or the Anti-Capitalist Left. Others have worked with Venezuela’s Bolivarian left. On November 15th Mr Iglesias railed against Spain’s “regime” and “oligarchies”. He was greeted with cries of “Yes, we can!” and “Let’s get them!” The guest speaker was Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s radical Syriza party.
Mr Iglesias’s main demand is for a rewrite of Spain’s constitution to scrap the “regime of 1978” and get rid of a casta of supposedly self-serving, corrupt politicians. Podemos would solve the Catalan problem by allowing an independence vote. On the economy, Mr Iglesias wants a restructuring of Spain’s public debt, government intervention and tax rises (especially for the rich) to pay for better public services. He also wants Spaniards to work fewer hours, as a way of reducing unemployment that is still running at 24%. Economists whom he cites include such well-known names as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Kenneth Rogoff.
IU and the Socialists are watching Podemos closely. The head of IU, Cayo Lara, announced on November 16th that he would not lead the party into elections next November. Mr Lara is likely to be replaced by a 29-year-old economist, Alberto Garzón, who is another star from the ranks of the indignados. Mr Garzón is even younger than the most visible Podemos leaders, who are mostly in their 30s. Like the pony-tailed Mr Iglesias, he is popular on television talk shows. The two could yet work together. The Socialists have their own newish leader, Pedro Sánchez. They may have to decide whether to ally with Podemos or, if it takes enough of their votes, to join a grand coalition with the PP.
The PP sees Podemos as a radical party that weakens its main Socialist rival. But the government also frets that it may scare off investors. Mr Rajoy is a dogged devotee of the constitution and a system that has seen the PP and the Socialists take it in turns to rule Spain for 32 years. He accuses Podemos of seeking to destroy progress made since Spain shed dictatorship. “If someone wants to undo all that and chuck it overboard, I suppose it is through ignorance, but it makes no sense,” he says.