Anti-austerity leader Pablo Iglesias lays out Spain challenge

Podemos at top of polls, seven points ahead of Popular Party due to 'shift in European politics'

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias: aims to roll back austerity Spain has been implementing for the last five years. PIerre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias: aims to roll back austerity Spain has been implementing for the last five years. PIerre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

 

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, a new anti-austerity party which is leading opinion polls, has said he is determined to win Spain’s upcoming general elections.

He attributes his success to a major power shift in European politics.

“Our challenge in 2015 is to beat the [governing] Popular Party in the general elections and to form a government,” Mr Iglesias told reporters. “And that has to do with a project built on European values that we wish to create with other Europeans.”

Dressed in trademark jeans and a checked shirt, the ponytailed 36-year-old was speaking after a hectic few weeks which appear to have confirmed his arrival as a national political figure.

Having campaigned on behalf of Alexis Tsipras, he watched his political ally win the Greek elections on January 25th. A few days later, Podemos staged one of the largest political demonstrations Spain has seen in recent years, gathering well over 100,000 people in central Madrid.

A poll published by Metroscopia last Sunday gave Podemos 28 per cent of votes, seven points ahead of the Popular Party (PP) and 10 points ahead of the opposition Socialists. A general election is expected towards the end of 2015, with regional elections scheduled for this May.

Mr Iglesias admitted that the party had been “in a hurry” since its foundation, and he hinted that this was why it had not yet presented a detailed set of policies. However, he reiterated his aim of rolling back the austerity which Spain has been implementing for the last five years and which he believes has helped divide Europe.

“Those [austerity] measures strengthen the financial powers,” he said. “They are policies that tell us that there are basically two Europes: a rich Europe which can develop and a Europe from the periphery which offers cheap manpower.”

‘Two Europes’

Mr Iglesias spoke warmly of his Greek counterpart, saying Mr Tsipras’s government “is giving a master class in common sense” in its negotiations with the rest of the European Union over its debt obligations.

“If Alexis Tsipras won the elections in Greece, it was basically because everything that has been done at the orders of the famous European troika . . . failed,” he said.

However, Mr Iglesias also insisted that Greece and Spain had different economic and political realities. “I’m convinced that the Greek government is going to do well but it’s a variable that has a limited impact on our own country,” he said.

Unlike Greece, Spain never requested a full sovereign bailout from the EU. However, Podemos has said it intends to review the country’s public debt, which is about 100 per cent of GDP.

Mr Iglesias outlined a handful of priority measures and reforms for a future Podemos government, including halting evictions of families who are unable to keep up mortgage payments, which has become a major social problem in recent years. He also highlighted the need for tax reform and increasing workers’ rights.

Despite its phenomenal success in the polls and on the streets, Podemos has recently been plagued by accusations of financial irregularity levelled at party number three Juan Carlos Monedero.

Last month it was revealed that Mr Monedero had received payments totalling €425,000 for advising the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua in 2010 on the creation of a Latin American currency.

Lack of detail provided by Mr Monedero, who was formerly a senior adviser to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, and questions about the fiscal status of the payment, have provoked accusations that Podemos are mired in the same kind of corruption scandal they repeatedly denounce in other parties.

However, Mr Iglesias staunchly backed his colleague, insisting he had done nothing illegal and he accused finance minister Cristóbal Montoro of using the case for political ends.