Can Podemos Govern Spain?

In January 2014, dozens of people got together in the Teatro del Barrio in Lavapies, (in the centre of Madrid), to form a political party to participate in the European Parliament elections to be held in May of that year. They needed 50,000 signatures to formalise their candidacy. Within in few days, they had the signatures and the embrio of what is now (920 days later) PODEMOS was born: a coalition which now holds 25% of the voting intentions for this Sunday’s legislative elections. The party wants to become the leading force on the left, ahead of the PSOE, and even the leading national party, ahead of the PP. In short, a party ready to govern. Without doubt this is the most spectacular political phenomenon so far this century and there is very little with which to compare it. An even bigger surprise than the Trump phenomenon in the US or the Five Star Movement in Italy. An anti-establishment party, whose success is based on the failures of the other traditional parties.

Those behind PODEMOS are a tight group, although they have different points of view which, for the time being, they know how to combine in the service of a common idea: obtain power and give the Spanish and European political chessboards a good kicking. The party was born out of the wave of the informal 15M “Indigants” movement (2011), which demonstrated against the traditional parties’ impotence and resignation in the face of the crisis and corruption. But PODEMOS has never wanted to represent 15M. Its leaders are not new to politics and the majority have been militants since they were teenagers in different left-wing political groups, including the Communist Party and other more radical parties.

There are a lot of university professors amongst them from the Politics Department of Madrid’s Complutense University. Under 40 years old, the majority of them are poor, with experience in political debate and knowledge of left-wing populist strategies in Latin America, in particular Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina.

They have been very efficient and pragmatic in implementing political propaganda strategies, using the media intelligently to get themselves known, achieve notoriety and win over people who are dissatisfied, critical and bent on producing a change in the leadership elite.

What seemed impossible a few months ago – just mere agitation which would disappear with time – is that PODEMOS has now become a central political force to be reckoned with, one with well grounded aspirations of governing. They already do this in the most important city councils in Spain and have very quickly changed their programme, their ideological stance and tone as they have increased their voter base, so as not to discourage any voter dissatisfied with the political and social reality.

They have produced a nice programme, with a lot of nods to populism, and with basic but also attractive analysis. How it zeros in on the problems has become more moderate over the last almost 1,000 days, although the essential issues remain: public spending, public protagonism, social policies and attractive declarations and commitments. What is there to object in a demand for fair fishing cuotas, stable jobs in agriculture, efficient and ecological energy…or a proposal to get rid of tax havens and for the rich to pay their taxes? When they attack the boards of the big companies, who would dare to defend that cause?

Podemos is a just as much or more of a governing party than Syriza, which no-one talks about much now given that its record has been neither exemplary or encouraging. Like Syriza, PODEMOS’ leaders know that if they are in government they will need to be pragmatic and realistic. But they think that once they are in power, it will be much easier to hold on to it. For the time being, its power lies in the weakness of its adversaries who are incapable of seeing and understanding the new political and social reality in the wake of the crisis.

 

About the Author

Fernando Gonzalez Urbaneja
Over 30 years working in economic journalism. Fernando was founder and chief-editor at El País, general editor at the business daily Cinco Días, and now teaches at Universidad Carlos III. He's been president of the Madrid Press Association and the Spanish Federation of Press Associations. He's also member of the Spanish press complaints commission.