Podemos – Spanish politics

Podemos

Strapline

Billions of euros stashed in overseas tax havens; 2 million households without any earned income; 5.9 million unemployed (25%); 700,000 emigrés fleeing poverty; 500 evictions daily; industrial output per capita falling to 1976 levels, the year after General Franco died. Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy’s Popular (sic) Party may find themselves kicked into third place in Spain’s General Election this year.

Podemos is a new political party with 208,000 members, 400,000 Twitter followers and 800,000 Facebook likes. A full interview of Pablo Iglesias on Salvados was watched by 5 million viewers. A major force on the political landscape, the stated goal of Podemos is to sweep the mainstream self-serving parties from power. On the European political spectrum to the left of social democracy, other parties have evolved or been born – the left-leaning Social Democratic coalition elected in Sweden, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark and Syriza in Greece.

Podemos – Spanish politics

Emanating from the 2011 Indignados, the Movimiento 15-M (slogan: ‘real democracy now’), Democracia Real YA, Inquirda Anticapitalista & Inquirda Unida, Podemos is an unprecedented, insurgent movement founded in January 2014 by a charismatic political scientist Pablo Iglesias Turron, a panellist on TV debates, who has been elected its first Secretary General. Like Angela Merkel in Germany and Peter Mandelson in Britain, Pablo was a member of the Communist Youth during his formative years. He has advised Hugo Chavez on Venezuelan policy issues, garnering wisdom and class awareness from the experiences. Pablo is depicted with a couple of his pals in the graphic above. The guy with the hat looks sound, but I’d be careful with the comrade to your immediate right, Pablo. The words ‘purge’ and ‘ice-pick’ pop into my head.

Podemos translates as ‘We can’ in Spanish. With 208,000 members, it is already a major explosive force on Europe’s political landscape. The Spanish establishment reacted with horror to “the weirdo rancid commies” when Podemos broke through with the election of five MEPs to the EU Parliament in May 2014. There was a total of 54 MEPs elected from Spain. Podemos won 1.2 million votes with a campaign budget of a mere €150,000. A group of citizens close to Podemos have created an independent workers union called Somos (“we are” in Spanish). A full interview of Pablo Iglesias on Salvados was watched by 5 million viewers.

Podemos was established by a group of intellectuals – teachers and academics, economists, scientists and activists. Analysis of Podemos voters found that 25% had not voted in the last Spanish general election in 2011, that they are middle-aged or younger, mostly urban, from wealthier than average backgrounds. They are not more likely to be unemployed or dispossessed or economically marginalized. They’re ready and willing to confront la casta (the establishment), angry about elitism, government inertia, injustice and corruption.  Shady payments, dodgy dealings and corruption scandals in Spain now feature in a new board game, Corruptopolis. Players must provide a convincing explanation of how a certain amount of cash from a graft case ended up in their bank account.

It’s not all about polling numbers or targeting seats but the party members’ ongoing work on the streets – the marches for dignity, against unemployment, the anti-eviction movement, actions against the privatisation of hospitals and in defense of undocumented migrants.

A nightmare for many Spaniards – deprivation; la casta’s austerity measures; 2 million households without any earned income; pay freezes; 5.9 million unemployed; 700,000 emigrés “fleeing poverty”; privatisations; 500 evictions daily; diminishing pensions; industrial output [i]per capita[/i] falling to 1976 levels, the year after Franco died.

The party’s manifesto for the Spanish elections includes proposals for sustainable debt levels, measures to support public education and health, and the inclusion of corruption as a crime in the penal code. Podemos counteract criticism under the slogan, Su odio, nuestra sonrisa (Their hate, our smile). Spaniards will get to vote on the future of the monarchy if Podemos wins the general election next year. Pablo Iglesias says that ‘the only way to end corruption is to democratise the economy. The Spanish people have been ruled by thieves. There is a new common sense and a social majority that wants the rich to pay taxes. Heaven is not taken by consensus. It is taken by assault.  We’re coming from the bottom and going for the top’.

Dozens of politicians have been arrested recently, including many from Prime Minister Rajoy’s own party. Rajoy insists corruption is not a problem in Spain, that it is ‘just a few bad apples’. Author Josep Ramoneda has described Spain’s economic woes as the result of “the permanent promiscuity between politics and money”.

Podemos objectives

ECONOMY: 35 hour working week, retirement at 60, Citizen Audit of public and private debt

HOUSING: the provision of electricity, water and heating as a basic right that should be guaranteed by public companies

HOMOSEXUALITY: complete equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender folk

JUSTICE: End of counter-terrorism and public safety policies that violate freedom of expression, the rights of association, demonstration and protest; right to legal aid and with all the guarantees of access to it in terms of equity

HEALTH: return all privatised centres and hospitals to the public sector. increase in the public health workforce, right to safe, open and free abortion, guarantee the right to a dignified death

CULTURE: reduce VAT from 21% to 4% on cultural events

EDUCATION: eliminate any subsidy and assistance to private education, allocating savings to finance, improve public schools

FOREIGN POLICY: policy supporting self-determination for Western Sahara, recognition of a Palestinian state, demand a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, referendum on Spain leaving NATO

ENVIRONMENT: ban bullfighting and trafficking of exotic or endangered species

RELIGION: elimination of tax privileges of the Catholic Church and the privileges that are granted in education

Thousands of people have marched in the Spanish capital of Madrid in the latest rally against European-backed austerity (March 2015). The “Dignity March” drew residents from across Spain to protest at worsening poverty and to demand basics like jobs and affordable housing. The march comes as Podemos makes strong gains in regional votes. In Andalusia, Podemos went from none to 15 seats , cutting into the share of Spain’s two traditional parties, the Socialists and the People’s Party.

On the European political spectrum to the left of social democracy, other parties and citizens’ movements have emerged  – the left-leaning Social Democratic coalition elected in Sweden, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, Slovenia’s United Left and Syriza in Greece. Syriza is led by the astute Alexis Tsipras, another former communist activist. Closer to home, anti-austerity party Sinn Féin has topped polls in the Irish Republic with 26%, following mass protests against water charges.

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