Spain’s famously fractious political left is being divided once again by a dispute which threatens to undermine its electoral support just months ahead of crucial elections.
At the centre of the storm is Yolanda Díaz, the labour minister and a deputy prime minister in the coalition government, who has become the latest star of the Spanish left.
Díaz’s reluctance to associate herself with Podemos, a junior partner in the Socialist-led coalition, has provoked bewilderment and anger within the far-left party, which claims credit for her recent rise.
In a speech to supporters at the weekend, the party’s founder and former leader Pablo Iglesias said many in the party were thinking: “We’ve made you deputy prime minister, we’ve made you [labour] minister ... Respect us, we deserve it in this country, we’ve taken a pounding like nobody else.”
Díaz is a Galician labour lawyer who joined the government in 2020 as one of five ministers representing the Unidas Podemos (UP) electoral platform. An independent, she has membership of the Spanish Communist party but only, she says, as a tribute to her father who was a union leader during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Her role in the furlough scheme during Covid and in guiding a flagship labour reform through parliament earlier this year raised her profile and her smiling, upbeat manner has struck a chord with many voters. She has the highest approval rating of the country’s main political leaders, according to the National Statistics Institute.
In 2021, Iglesias declared Díaz, with whom he had a close friendship, an ideal UP candidate for prime minister in the next general election. However, she has seemed determined to keep her distance from all political parties, including Podemos, as she creates what she calls a new “civic movement”, called Sumar (or Gather). She has avoided being seen with Podemos politicians when promoting her platform and has sidestepped attempts to include her on the party’s electoral ticket next year.
“Podemos has been a generous political force like no other,” Iglesias said on Sunday, as he appealed to Díaz to join forces with the party. “[Podemos] has to run together with Sumar in the general election,” he added. In an apparent dig at her, he also warned that it was “reactionary” to suggest that conventional political parties were a problem.
Díaz appeared to give a pointed response to Iglesias’s comments as she spoke at a Sumar event in Pamplona. “We’re sick of little politics which do nothing more than pit people against each other, distort,” she said, adding: “We don’t want anyone telling us from above what we have to be.”
UP made history by burying differences with the Socialist Party and forming Spain’s first coalition government of the modern era. However, support for Podemos has dropped steadily since it first arrived in parliament in 2015 and in recent elections it has performed poorly. Having initially been seen as a potentially powerful electoral weapon for Podemos, Díaz now looks more like a rival.
“Díaz’s movement [Sumar] is still in nappies, its fragility is clear and it remains to be seen whether, by associating herself with grass-roots organisations she can build a political movement that mobilises the electorate to the left of the Socialists,” noted El Periódico newspaper. It added that the dispute with Podemos was yet another example of the “traditional factionalism of the left”.
In May 2023, there will be elections for city halls across Spain and in 12 of the country’s 17 regions. A general election will be held by the end of the year.
The political commentator Íñigo Sáenz de Ugarte noted that “if this conflict, or whatever you wish to call it, ends up triggering an irreversible divorce between Podemos and Yolanda Díaz, then the right will automatically have won the elections.”