What does the emergence of Podemos in Spain mean?

The local elections in Spain have confirmed the growth of the new political party Podemos, which erupted on the political scene in Spain only one year ago when it obtained 5 members in the European Parliament, to the surprise of Many.

Candidates supported by this party but running under different banners (mainly popular formations that work somehow independently in each municipality) are likely to govern Madrid and Barcelona, the two most important cities. Historically, whenever a major shift in politics has taken place nationwide, it has begun in these two cities. Additionally, Podemos is likely to be instrumental in establishing governments in many autonomous regions -in which it competed with this name.

What the electorate really expects from this political force remains, however, unclear. Its support grew out of rejection for the existing status quo, rather than illusion for a new project. What the party proposes is a mix of ferocious opposition to the Popular Party´s governing record, socially appealing yet not fully defined measures to deal with the economic crisis, and an unclear left-wing ideological discourse. Its linkages to Venezuela´s government, to whom some of Podemos main leaders provided paid consultancies, have been overexploited by the right-wing to expose potential ideological affinity with Maduro´s regime. But the party does not confirm this point.

It also proposes a bottom up approach to internal decision making in the party, as it originally emerged from spontaneous popular assemblies in cities and villages. And, most importantly, a new style: you would very seldom, if ever, see a Podemos leader wearing jacket and tie. This aesthetic factor should not be overlooked, as many Spanish citizens do reflect on this image.

But what does this bring in concrete terms?

First, it has given many citizens a sense of political relevance. For the first time in a long period many people have felt that their vote can produce change. In this sense, it is a healthy, reinvigorating development for democracy in general.

Second, it will force the Conservative and Socialist parties to look again into the social dimension of their programmes, if they want to regain some of the lost votes. And they will have to do that looking for credible, understandable and directly implementable initiatives with immediate social impact, not betting everything in the social consequences of getting the macroeconomic rationale right.

Third, it will make governance in general a much more complicated process in Spain. Negotiations, coalitions and trade-offs will become the norm. It is to be hoped that the political class, including the newcomers, will face this challenge with a sense of collective responsibility as administrative paralysis may otherwise become a most damaging consequence.

And for Europe, it signals in yet one more country that many people are tired of traditional politics, of political alienation of important segments of the population (in which the European institutions play and important role), look for new ways of participation, and are ready to jump into the unknown regardless of the risks.




The editorial team of Katoikos

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