Podemos makes a show of force at 100,000-strong Madrid march

Anti-austerity party leader tells crowd, ‘We are going to beat the PP in the elections’

Podemos supporters at Puerta del Sol square: Saturday’s event was unusual in that it made no specific demands of the government. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Podemos supporters at Puerta del Sol square: Saturday’s event was unusual in that it made no specific demands of the government. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

 

Up to 100,000 Spaniards turned out in Madrid on Saturday in support of Podemos, the anti-austerity party that hopes to emulate its Greek counterpart Syriza by taking power in upcoming elections.

Described by organisers as the “march for change”, the event was unusual in that it made no specific demands of the government. Instead, it was a show of force by Podemos, as it looks ahead to a year during which many expect it to turn Spanish politics on its head.

“We’re a country of ordinary people. We dream like Don Quixote but we take our dreams very seriously,” said Pablo Iglesias, the party’s 36-year-old leader, as he addressed upwards of 100,000 people who walked through central Madrid to gather in Puerta del Sol square.

Founded by a group of academics just a year ago, Podemos has already managed to break the three-decade grip of the governing Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists on the country’s political landscape. In May, it took 1.2 million votes in the EU elections and since then it has been leading many opinion polls. Spain has municipal and regional elections in May, with a general election expected by the end of the year.

Year of change

Although the policies of Podemos are still vague, it is seen as ideologically close to Greece’s Syriza. Besides its opposition to German-sponsored austerity, the Spanish party has said it would audit the country’s national debt – a similar stance to the Greek party. Mr Iglesias is close to the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, having campaigned on his behalf in Athens last month.

“Who said that a government can not change things?” the leader of Podemos asked the Madrid crowd. “In Greece, they have done more in six days than other governments had done in years.”

Among the many purple flags with the Podemos slogan, some Greek flags were also visible, in a show of support for Spain’s Mediterranean neighbour. One demonstrator bore a placard which read: “Greece: 10, Angela Merkel: 0”.

“It’s good for us that Syriza won,” said Simon Colina (32), who had travelled from the northern city of Burgos for the event. “We do have similar problems, although Greece is a different country.”

Economic recovery

In addition, Spain’s traditional parties have been haemorrhaging credibility in recent years, due both to their handling of the economic crisis and a series of corruption scandals.

“We need a change here in Spain and also in Europe, ” said Javier Lozano (33), an artist from Madrid. “We can’t go on like this. There’s a kind of war going on between the financial systems and ordinary people.”

Mr Rajoy responded to the march by describing Podemos as “radicals” who exaggerate Spain’s problems.

“They think that by doing that they are going to be able to replace those who are governing and who have had to face up to the toughest crisis we’ve had in decades,” he said.