Podemos leaders under pressure over resignations

The political party’s energy is dissipating as internal disputes pull it apart

Podemos, the anti-austerity force which was the sensation of Spain’s recent general election, has been rocked in recent days by a swathe of resignations and sackings of senior figures amid reports of divisions at the top of the party.

Founded only two years ago by a group of university professors, Podemos came third in December's inconclusive general election, taking about 20 per cent of the popular vote. With another new party, Ciudadanos, coming in a strong fourth, the result blew open a political landscape which had been dominated by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists.

But while Podemos could be crucial in the still ongoing attempts to form a new government, it is struggling to maintain a united front.

Earlier this month, Emilio Delgado, a senior figure in Podemos's Madrid wing, resigned citing a "lack of leadership and lack of support" in the capital. Two days later, nine of his colleagues did the same, also blaming differences with the Madrid wing's leadership.

Bitter decision

“We regret having to take the most bitter decision we have taken in recent times,” their resignation statement read. “Most of us have been involved in Podemos since the beginning and we remain committed to the principles, values and political actions of a project which has become the best tool with which the people can recover control of our institutions and change our country.”

Luis Alegre, the leader of Podemos's regional wing in Madrid and a close ally of party leader Pablo Iglesias, has been identified as the cause of the frictions.

For the moment, however, Alegre is remaining in his post. On Tuesday, Iglesias responded to the resignations by sacking the party's organisational secretary and third in command, Sergio Pascual, accusing him of "deficient management whose consequences have seriously hurt Podemos at such a delicate moment".

In a communiqué addressed to party members, Iglesias (37) sought to dampen dissent, warning that the Madrid resignations “have presented on a plate a narrative that interests those who defend the status quo”.

El Español newspaper described Iglesias's actions as "iron-fisted".

“Although the party statutes allow him to cut off the head of his number three without any further explanation, that doesn’t stop it from being a gesture that is more authoritarian than authoritative,” it said in an editorial.

The crisis in the Madrid wing appears to reflect a deeper rift at the top of the party, between Iglesias and his deputy leader Íñigo Errejón (32).

The two men have long been seen as an inseparable duo whose intellectual chemistry was the foundation for the meteoric success of Podemos. But with all those who have recently departed being seen as closer to Errejón, and the under-fire Alegre an ally of Iglesias, a division has become visible, particularly against the backdrop of the ongoing attempts by parties to form a new government, three months after the elections.

Errejón is seen as a more moderate figure who is in favour of attempting to negotiate with the Socialists over the creation of some form of governing pact, in order to prevent fresh elections being called. But Iglesias’s fiery rhetoric of recent weeks has threatened to alienate the Socialists altogether.

In a recent congressional debate he reminded the chamber of the GAL death squads which killed Basque terrorists and innocent civilians during the government of the Socialist former prime minister Felipe González.

Governing alliance

Undeterred, the current Socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez, has asked Greek prime minister

Alexis Tsipras

to mediate as he seeks a governing alliance with Podemos. Iglesias is close to Greece’s leader, having campaigned for him in that country’s 2015 election.

But Podemos is also facing challenges elsewhere, with reports of dissent in several regions, such as Galicia and Catalonia, where it has built electoral alliances with like-minded local parties. Some of these allies already have substantial autonomy while others disagree with the national strategy, creating a geographical headache for Iglesias.