Can the Far-Left Sweep Spain?

Radical Politics and the “Podemos” Wave

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, addresses the crowd during a rally in Madrid, January 31, 2015. Susana Vera / Courtesy Reuters

In the wake of the January 25 general election in Greece that brought to power Syriza, a radical-left, anti-establishment, and anti-austerity party, the spotlight now shines on Spain’s Podemos, a sister organization in a significantly larger European country that is soon to face a national election of its own. Syriza’s ties to Podemos were amply displayed on January 30 at a massive rally in Madrid’s Plaza del Sol, where some in the crowd held Greek flags and exchanged high-fives for Syriza party leader and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Labeled by its organizers as la marcha del cambio (the march of change), the Spanish media called it the start of the 2015 electoral season, which is sure to be unlike anything since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1977. That year, Spain held its first free elections since the end of the Civil War in 1939, during a wave of terrorism from Basque separatists and mutinies from disgruntled military officers.

Attended by some 100,000 people according to police estimates (Podemos’ own tally is 300,000), the rally is a testament to the charisma of Podemos’ leader, Secretary General Pablo Iglesias Turrión, the galvanizing 36-year-old political science professor from Madrid’s Complutense University. Iglesias, named after Pablo Iglesias Possé, founder of the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE), is Spain’s most popular politician, and his party is on a roll. A poll conducted by the Center for Sociological Investigations sent shockwaves through the political establishment last November when it revealed that Podemos was poised to best the conservative government of the Popular Party (PP) and the Social Democratic PSOE in the next elections. The international media has taken note, too. After watching what happened in Greece, observers have warned that Podemos could be an even bigger threat to the eurozone than Syriza given the size of Spain’s economy (almost six times that of Greece, and the fourth largest within the European Union). 

Comparisons between Podemos and Syriza make for provocative reading, but Podemos is not a carbon copy of

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