Tic-tac, tic-tac… As Pablo Iglesias, general secretary of Podemos, recalls insistently, elections in Spain are drawing closer. It seems evident things are likely to change in the Spanish political landscape. In a period of outrage, scepticism and mistrust in policy, will Pablo Iglesias’ party be able to take advantage of the situation and gain political power in Spain?
Podemos arose on 17th January 2014 with the aim of representing and giving a political dimension to 15-M: a protest movement against corruption and the economic crisis’ impact on society, which deteriorated the standards of living impoverishing middle-income families. The party aimed to improve the representativeness of the Spanish political system, making it more democratic and closer to the citizens. Protesters expressed great disapproval and a rejection of austerity politics, as well as indignation over rising poverty and extremely high unemployment rates. They also demanded a regeneration of the Spanish political system, increasing the accessibility and influence of citizens over the major political decisions as well as putting an end to political polarisation. The alternation in power between Partido Popular (PP) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) doesn’t represent a real solution to the problems and challenges that Spain faces nowadays. Both parties have proved to be unaware of the real problems which affect Spanish people since the economic crisis began, or, at least, are unable to give an adequate response to them.
Illusion and regeneration
Since its foundation, Podemos has experienced a spectacular growth. Its platform, based on political change and of greater citizenship participation in political affairs through introducing a more democratic system, as well as the excellent academic and professional training of its charismatic leaders, Pablo Iglesias and Juan Carlos Monedero, have appealed to a great number of new supporters. Surveys showing Spaniards’ political preferences have reflected the expansion of the Podemos party. According to a survey conducted in March 2015,
Podemos would be the second most popular party in Spain, with 25% of the votes, second only to PP, with the 28% and followed by PSOE, with a 20% share. As a result, the two big traditional parties, together with certain mass media, launched an impeachment and attack campaign against the rise of Podemos in an attempt to restrain its advance in the Spanish political landscape. Thus, it is evident that Podemos’ boom has alerted political and economical Spanish elites, to whom Pablo Iglesias refers as “casta”, who’s incompetence has led to the situation that Spain now faces. While Pablo Iglesias’ party’s expansion has spread a feeling of uncertainty and concern among elites, it has brought clarity and hope to both middle and low classes, allowing them to believe real political change is still possible and the economic situation can be managed by introducing large, but necessary reforms. Surveys on voting intention support this theory of new found hope in Spanish politics with a forecast 20.4% share for Podemos, 12.2% for PP and 11.2% for PSOE.
Populism and ambiguity
On the other hand, despite strongly criticising the political and economical system and insisting in the need of changes, Podemos hasn’t proposed any realistic measures or solutions to overcome these problems. Its political program includes some interesting ideas, such as introducing a minimum rent for all Spaniards, reforming the Constitution to give everybody the right to a loan, creating a strong public baking system or reducing working time per worker in order to redistribute employment and reduce unemployment. Nevertheless, its policies are often based on complacency and populism, by telling their supporters what they want to hear.
Podemos‘ ideas are vague and ambiguous. Their reluctancy to lose potential voters prevents its leaders from clearly defining its ideological stance. However, its lack of definition as a left or a right wing party isn’t the only problem they face; their ambiguity also affects more sensitive topics. Pablo Iglesias’ party doesn’t have clear ideas concerning a crucial issue in Spain’s domestic policy: Cataluña’s independence. However, the most serious example of this ambiguity is the lack of condemnation to Venezuela’s autocratic regime. Podemos hasn’t condemned the opposition leaders’ arbitrary arrests conducted by President Maduro, despite being a political party which supports and advances democracy so strongly. Consequently, some mass media accuse this party as being financed by the Venezuelan government.
New options forehead big traditional parties
Regarding the results of recent Andalusia’s regional elections and the information given by different surveys, it’s fair enough to admit that Podemos has asserted itself as the third party and has a real chance of dominating Spanish politics, representing a strong alternative to the traditional alternation in power between PP and PSOE. However, it’s necessary to highlight that other new parties have also risen to the forefront of Spanish politics in recent years. Despite not having the same media impact as Podemos, some of them are slowly growing in popularity, and should also be taken into account for the next elections as well.
Whatever the outcome of the elections is, Podemos’ boom has already changed the perception of policy and the way citizens take part in its formation. Traditional parties assumed they have to renovate in order to adapt to a changing society, transforming their internal election processes to be more democratic and transparent. Citizens have now become aware of their ability to make real changes in Spanish politics and to make their demands be taken seriously. To sum up, even if it’s unlikely that Podemos will take over Spain, its boom has started a democratic regeneration process based on direct democracy and bringing policy closer to citizens.