Fledgling Podemos party makes major inroad into Spain’s political status quo

Party operates on tiny budget but is fuelled by outrage

Pablo Iglesias: political scientist heads new party that won 1.2 million votes. Photograph: Andrea Comas/Reuters

Pablo Iglesias: political scientist heads new party that won 1.2 million votes. Photograph: Andrea Comas/Reuters

 

The seemingly vice-like grip in which Spain’s two main parties have held the electorate in recent decades was loosened on Sunday by a 35-year-old university professor with a ponytail, whose own political party is just weeks old and has a tiny budget, but is backed by the hard currency of outrage.

Podemos (“We Can”), founded in February and financed via crowdfunding, was the major surprise of Spain’s EU elections, securing five seats and 1.2 million votes, putting it in fourth place.

The extent of the ambitions of Pablo Iglesias, the young political scientist who leads the party and was its EU candidate, was clear on Sunday night as he played down this extraordinary performance.

“We’re not satisfied with this,” he told supporters after the results came through. “We lost these European elections, the Popular Party won them. We shouldn’t be happy. There will be more unemployed and more people evicted from their homes and Merkel will keep taking decisions against the people.”

Changed landscape But Iglesias still has plenty of reasons to be satisfied. The governing Popular Party and opposition Socialists performed poorly, together receiving less than 50 per cent of the vote.

With other, smaller, parties, on the rise, the arrival of Podemos has fuelled talk that Spain’s longstanding bi-party politics are under serious threat.

A former member of Spain’s Communist Youth party, Iglesias combines his work as an academic in Madrid’s Complutense University with regular appearances in televised political debates which have raised his profile.

The recent economic crisis, which saw Spain’s unemployment soar to over 25 per cent, where it still hovers, has left many Spaniards struggling to make ends meet, and sent many younger people abroad to look for a better life. Podemos has found a rich seam of support among this angry, disenchanted voter base.

The party’s main aims are to increase controls on politicians and banks, attack corruption and seek alternatives to austerity. Iglesias and his party want to slash MEP salaries to €1,900 per month and plan to present an anti-corruption “doctrine” to the EU parliament.

More contentiously, they have raised the possibility of Spain exiting the euro zone to recover economic sovereignty.

The party has been accused of relying too heavily on the media-friendly, fresh-faced image of Iglesias – a problem the party leader himself acknowledges. But Iglesias bristles when critics describe him as populist.

“You can accuse us of defending the people, but you will never be able to accuse us of kneeling down before the European Central Bank,” he said.