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Podemos, the New Threat on Spain’s Political Horizon

On May 15th, 2011, tens of thousands of people gathered in Puerta del Sol to protest Spain’s plummeting economy. Spaniards assembled en mass, outraged by the misrepresentation politicians were providing, shouting “no nos representan.” These unsettling economic conditions led to the spontaneous birth of a movement that would later be known as Indignados, or the 15-M. The Indignados, meaning “the outraged,” are the people who formed the movement as a result of their dissatisfaction with the misrepresentation of their needs in Spanish politics.

It wasn’t long before the 15-M movement set up networks across Spain and arose as a political party known as Podemos. In Pablo Iglesias’ speech to the European Parliament in July, he opines, “[m]y fellow representatives, our first allegiance, to which all others must be subjected, is to the citizens who elected us.” As the leader of Podemos, Spaniards were enticed by the message Iglesias was imparting. He was fighting for a true democracy. It wasn’t long before the polls started to reflect these same ideals. In July of 2014 Podemos was projected to be one of the top three political parties for the 2015 general elections. By November of 2014, Podemos was projected to win the elections, which has shocked established politicians from the ideological left and right. It is evident the ascension of Podemos has not been slow, but what makes this political party so alluring? Based on the foundation of a grass roots democracy, Podemos relies entirely on the participation of the people. This attribute is the political party’s greatest asset.

Even before his election to the assembly, Pablo Iglesias served as a spokesman for Podemos. According to Swift, “[h]e is a former university researcher and lecturer who emerged as a media figure with his lucid explanations of the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in Spain’s economic crisis.”

Iglesias is referring to those most effected by the crisis as the losers, while the winners are the big banks who received bailouts. Pablo Iglesias expressed a similar view to his fellow European Union representatives on July 1, 2014, stating, “[b]ig corporations turn representatives of citizens into millionaires. This way of working steals sovereignty away from the people, harms democracy, and turns political representatives into a caste.” The caste, Iglesias mentions, refers to the country’s increasingly corrupt political establishment. Podemos and Pablo Iglesias are working tirelessly not to become like their predecessors, showing Spaniards the need for a different kind of democracy.

What makes this party so captivating for the Spanish people is the opportunity for change. In an interview shortly after his speech to the European Parliament, Iglesias asked, “[w]hat is the problem if the Spanish people decide what the right thing is for their future?” Iglesias’ main objective is to do away with the political parties of the old regime who he claims are “hijacking democracy.” This terminology represents Podemos’ ideology well, as they are looking to redefine Spanish democracy and bring about social change. He believes that corporations, which no one elected, are destroying social rights and threatening political cohesion. Iglesias thinks that political harmony is necessary in order to bring about effective social change.

While the future political climate of Spain cannot be predicted, Podemos offers a perspective of what it should look like. The political party is pushing for the demise of tax havens and austerity measures. Podemos also believes that Spain’s debt needs to be restructured and social programs need to be saved. More money needs to reach the ‘welfare state,’ providing health care and education. Podemos has recently come out with a first proposal of their economic program for the 2015 general elections. Interestingly enough, minimum wage was not mentioned anywhere on the sixty page document when it had previously been a prominent radical proposal for the party. This might be due to the fact that Podemos will never be able to implement all of their radical measures. Consequently, some ideas need to be abandoned so that Podemos might be more effective elsewhere. In addition to all of these previously mentioned policies, Podemos is hoping to do away with the ‘caste’ currently in power, claiming that the two party system is plagued with corruption and no longer represents the will of the people.

One of the many challenges Podemos faces as it gears up for the next general elections in 2015 is its lack of experience. Many politicians are questioning whether or not Podemos is capable of running the country. The political party has persistently not claimed to represent the left or right but instead a party for the people. This is delicate ground to tread, as this is their asset but also their weakness. It is an asset that the party wants to remain undefined, however, the political system in Spain is already so imbedded with left vs. right that eventually it will be difficult for Podemos not to mirror one side or the other.

It is challenging enough for Spain to agree on legislation with a two-party system, so how will Podemos manage to achieve its goals with three parties in power? Podemos member of the Citizens’ Council, Ana Domínguez Rama, shares, “There is no way of knowing what the future political spectrum might be. However, Podemos is willing to pact with other parties, even Partido Popular (PP) in order to pass effective legislation.” This does not imply that Podemos will become one with PP, it is merely a way to align so that the political party might be successful in passing legislation within an established system.

Currently, the political system is not set up for a party with the infrastructure of Podemos, which employs the direct participation of the people. The long-reigning political parties, Partido Popular (PP) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), have always been organized in a hierarchal structure while Podemos proposes a horizontal organization. Horizontal means that all participants play an equal role and thus no one ever acquires too much authority. This type of infrastructure is also how Podemos distinguishes itself from its closest political rival, leftist coalition formation Izquierda Unida (IU). To many, IU is stuck in the past and has been for quite some time. Podemos member of the Citizens’ Council, Ana Domínguez Rama, notes that there are two main differences between the political parties. The first is their method. Podemos is totally run by the citizens, starting with who should be a party member down to what programs are most important. Secondly, history shows that IU does not have the will or desire to win the elections while Podemos is relentless.

Since the emergence of Podemos there has been what some call an acceleration of time. This is due to the fact that political parties have been revamping their entire internal organization because they are threatened by Podemos. First, King Felipe VI abdicated much sooner than planned in an attempt to remind Spaniards of the strength that the monarchy carries. Secondly, the PSOE president retired only to be replaced by Pedro Sánchez. Lastly, Cayo Lara is also projected to replace the previous IU leader. Podemos is believed to have forced these changes.

It is easy to see how Podemos poses a threat to the establishment. In a recent article, regarding the speculation of Íñigo Errejón failing to honor a research contract he signed with Málaga University, Podemos claims it is the victim of a “slander campaign.” Along with the economic crisis, the reason Spaniards are so adamant for a change in democracy is because of the many corruption scandals associated with those in power today. Podemos believes that because of the corruption that surrounds the “caste” the current political parties in power must be ousted.

While the political forecast of Spain cannot be predicted, it is clear that Podemos poses a daunting threat to the parties in power, particularly those who originated during the Franco regime. Wherever the future of this unique political party may lead it has undoubtedly brought the promise of change to the people of Spain. Allegedly, Podemos could be teaming up with other far leftist parties in a coalition known as “Ganemos” in order to put forth a winning candidate for the 2015 municipal elections, however there has not yet been a vote on the issue by party members. If Podemos is considering a coalition it might be because the party is still establishing its roots across Spain in order to solidify a victory in the 2015 general elections. Today, the international community is waiting patiently, anxious to see what Podemos, and Spanish politics overall, will represent in the near future.