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Even if Podemos doesn’t win, Spanish politics will have changed for the better

1 Dec , 2015  

By  -  
Mike is the co-editor of Consented.co.uk and host of Consented TV

On the 20th of December the Spanish people will vote for the party they wish to run their country for the next four years and for the first time since 1930’s more than two parties have a realistic chance of winning.

Much like in the UK, Spain has a traditional centre left party, el PSOE, and a centre right party, el PP, and together they have gotten used to sharing over the 70 per cent of the popular vote.

However, in January 2014, a new political entity was formed by a group of universitiy professors in Madrid in response to the country’s brutal austerity regime.

The party was called Podemos (We Can in Spanish) and since its inception, it has radically altered the country’s politics.

From gaining more than eight per cent of the vote and five MEPs in last year’s European Elections, just months after being formed, to helping break the 24 year conservative stranglehold over the capital in the recent municipal elections, Podemos has transformed how politics is done.

And yet some of the changes Podemos and its members have brought about are far more subtle than electoral victories or the implementation of policies.

When the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, was interviewed last month, he was watched by more than twenty per cent of the country and just a few weeks before that he had pulled in around fifteen per cent of the total audience, massively boosting the numbers of all the shows he appears on.

In this sense, Podemos and its leaders have made politics sexy again in Spain.

There’s no denying that late night talk shows and political debates now garner more attention than before Iglesias and his associates announced the formation of their party and they have been widely praised for their use of the media in capturing the frustrations of the Spanish people.

After years of consensus from the country’s two traditional political parties regarding the need for austerity, Podemos was the first organisation to openly question the logic of the Troika’s fiscal plan and talk about the need of an alternative on prime time television.

Podemos can also lay claim to having smashed the traditional two-party-system in Spain, with more than 80% of the vote expected to be shared amongst the four leading parties on December 20th, in stark contrast to the country’s last general election in 2011 when the two main parties took in more than 73 per cent of the popular vote and 296 of the 350 seats available.

The consensus of Spanish politics is now over and this has largely been down to the fact that Podemos was the first political party capable of tapping into the frustrations of the Spanish people.

Such frustrations had led to repeated general strikes, protests and marches as well as the 15M movement but none of them had been unable to take root in any political organisation.

In a country where over twenty per cent of the population are still out of work despite the leader of the ruling party declaring the end of economic crisis last year, it seems obvious that some political organisation would eventually tap into the mood of the nation, but until Podemos, none had done so.

Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold flags, placards and a banner during the "March for Change" planned by left-wing party Podemos that emerged out of the "Indignants" movement, in Madrid on January 31, 2015. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Madrid today in support of a call for change from new anti-austerity party Podemos, a week after Greece elected its ally Syriza. AFP PHOTO/ GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

In this sense, Podemos’ insistence on rooting out corruption is also reflective of the public’s disenchantment with a Spanish political class too often directly linked to million dollar corruption scandals.

An elite which contains the ex-treasurer of the ruling party who has spent time in jail for accepting bribes, to the tune of millions, whilst in power, keeping it all in Swiss bank accounts, it is fair to say that corruption is systemic in Spain.

In fact, corruption is so endemic the King of Spain has had to remove his sister’s royal titles after she and her husband, who now faces times in jail, were embroiled in a tax scandal worth millions.

Yet as a result of the support for Podemos, Spain’s traditional political parties have had to clear house in the build up to the general election in an attempt to save face and remain palatable to the electorate.

Such was the public backlash to the near constant revelations of corruption and the momentum ceded to Podemos, another political force was needed to try and stem the tide.

And the spectacular growth of Ciudadanos, a regional party formed in 2006, has come as a direct response to the right’s need to present itself as being capable of regeneration and free of corruption, cronyism and scandal.

Two years ago, Ciudadanos was an uninfluential party that had only ever been able to gain political support inside of Catalonia, but today it has emerged as the response to Podemos and after its stellar results in September’s regional elections in Catalonia, the party has been catapulted into stardom.

Most polls now suggest that Ciudadnos and Podemos, along with el PSOE and el PP will all take around 20 per cent of the popular vote.

Thanks to such rapid gains, Podemos has also been held up as an inspiration across Europe by many who have grown tired of the same old excuses regarding austerity and there being no alternative.

In the European Parliament Podemos formed a part of the European United Left which also included the ruling Greek party SYRIZA as well as Sinn Fein in Ireland and the Portuguese Communist Party.

And when Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour Leader, Podemos wished him well and declared that they looked forward to working with him in the near future.

Other seismic changes have also occurred since Podemos first burst on to the scene and whilst these cannot be directly attributed to the nascent political party, they are still worth mentioning.

Spain’s only monarch since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, abdicated last summer to make way for his more presentable and media savy son, after a raft of scandals had made the popularity of Spanish royal family sink to new lows.

The sexagenarian leader of the socialist party also resigned in the wake of the party’s poor result in Europe and was replaced by a young, good looking, almost Ken-doll like leader, who doesn’t wear a tie and comes across well on TV.

Such has been the success of Podemos that even those who come out in opposition to it have adopted many of its proposals, styles and techniques; a sure sign that Pablo Iglesias & Co have got their competitors rattled.

A coalition of some sorts seems likely to the be the only outcome of the general election and Podemos could still end up coming fourth overall but even if that is the case, the party has already accomplished far more than most.

The Spanish political system can no longer afford to rest on its laurels; if only the rest of Europe could say the same.


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