domingo, 12 de fevereiro de 2017
O psicodrama do Podemos / Spanish ‘psycho-drama’ plays out at top of Podemos
Spanish ‘psycho-drama’ plays out at top of Podemos
Leaders will battle for the soul of the leftist party at its conference this weekend.
By GUY HEDGECOE 2/10/17, 4:03 AM CET Updated 2/11/17, 5:19 PM CET
MADRID — A battle at the top of Podemos, the leftist anti-austerity party that took Spanish politics by storm three years ago, has spilled out into the open ahead of a big membership conference this weekend.
On January 31, journalists and politicians in Spain’s Congress watched as the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, became locked in what seemed to be a bitter argument with his deputy, Íñigo Errejón, seated next to him. In photos subsequently published in the media, the ponytailed Iglesias looks haggard and tired, sometimes fiercely making a point to his colleague, at others frowning as he listens. The usually fresh-faced Errejón appears much older than his 33 years, at one point wearily removing his glasses to remonstrate with the party leader.
Afterwards, both men played down the images. “We’re not Dutch, we gesticulate,” quipped Iglesias.
But whatever the content of that now infamous conversation, nobody doubts that a power struggle has broken out in the upper ranks of the party. Most surprising of all is that it should be waged between Iglesias and Errejón, whose friendship and intellectual chemistry was crucial in making Podemos the most successful and disruptive new arrival in Spanish politics for over three decades.
The conflict has been increasingly open and often brutal, full of conspiracy theories, poisonous tweets and occasional public outbursts. On February 1, Carolina Bescansa, a member of the party’s governing committee, resigned, saying she was tired of the “train crash” of a confrontation at the party’s heart.
Four days later, a recently departed senior Podemos figure, Luis Alegre, published in a national newspaper an acidic attack on a clique at the top of the party, who “are acting like parasites on Pablo until they destroy the organism […] I am sure Pablo will realize this only a year or two after being killed by his own people, but by then it will be too late.”
There is an outside chance of a more radical overhaul, threatening the leadership of Iglesias.
Adding to the rancor, Antonio Montiel, the head of Podemos in Valencia, compared the leadership style of Iglesias to that of Saddam Hussein and Francisco Franco.
When Iglesias himself described the intrigue as a “psycho-drama,” it was hard to argue.
This weekend, Podemos holds its second national civic assembly, in the Vistalegre sports arena in Madrid. By the end of it, the party will seek to have redefined its purpose and direction and healed some of the wounds of recent months. But there is also an outside chance of a more radical overhaul, threatening the leadership of Iglesias.
Founded in early 2014 by a group of lecturers from Madrid’s Complutense University, Podemos was an almost immediate success, winning 1.2 million votes in the EU parliamentary elections of that spring. At that time, the Spanish economy was undergoing a shaky recovery, but the effects of the worst recession of the modern era were still all too visible. Meanwhile, a seemingly endless torrent of corruption cases affecting the two main political forces, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE), fueled Spaniards’ anger at their leaders.
Podemos championed political renewal and an end to austerity, putting it on the side of ordinary Spaniards fed up with their discredited elites. By the end of 2014, it was top of the opinion polls.
A core group had plotted this rise, including Juan Carlos Monedero, a former advisor to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, and Bescansa. But the party’s most recognizable faces were Iglesias, now 38, and Errejón. They shared deep leftist convictions and an obsession with political theory. Both were informed by Latin American leftism, with Errejón writing about the Evo Morales government of Bolivia for his PhD thesis and Iglesias an admirer of Venezuela’s Bolivarian populism.
The duo’s collaborative leadership was cemented at the party’s founding national assembly in October 2014 in Vistalegre. It was a marriage made in heaven: a media-savvy firebrand of a leader who could channel popular anger and speak in soundbites; and his more softly-spoken, yet highly articulate, No. 2.
In the spring of 2015, the party got a taste of real power as Podemos-backed forces took control of major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Cádiz, Zaragoza and A Coruña in municipal elections. The result confirmed the party’s enormous appeal for younger, urban Spaniards.
Then, in the general election of December 2015, it won 69 seats in Congress, ending over three decades of two-party politics and establishing itself as the country’s third force. “Podemos is here to stay,” said El Español newspaper.
But that historic election was the start of its problems.
“[We need to] seduce that part of the population who suffer but still don’t trust us” — Íñigo Errejón
The vote failed to produce a clear winner, with both the governing PP losing its majority and the second-placed PSOE losing ground. Errejón saw an opportunity for Podemos to form a coalition or governing agreement with the PSOE, which was already working on a partnership with the new liberal party, Ciudadanos. Iglesias disagreed, fearing he would have to compromise too much with parties to his right and no deal was reached.
Six months later, a new election was held and Podemos ran in tandem with the communist-led United Left (IU). Having insisted since its inception that it represented Spaniards “down below” rather than anywhere on the conventional political spectrum, Podemos was now firmly placing itself on the hard left. The electoral merger failed, as the two parties together lost around a million votes. As campaign manager, Errejón shouldered much of the blame, although it emerged he had never been fully convinced of the partnership.
A good-natured Twitter conversation between Iglesias and his deputy in September summarized the brewing discord.
Pablo Iglesias holds Carolina Bescansa's baby at the Spanish Congress, next to her and Íñigo Errejón
“We already scare the powerful, that’s not the challenge,” posted Errejón, as he called on his party to reach out to center-ground voters. “[We need to] seduce that part of the population who suffer but still don’t trust us.”
Iglesias replied that “speaking clearly and being different, we will seduce more.”
Since then, the tone has become less cordial, with social networks often the battleground for the feuding factions surrounding the two politicians. Reports of a conspiracy, plotted on the Telegram app, to undermine or even overthrow Iglesias have come to light and party militants have been trolling Errejón on Twitter with the hashtag #AsiNoInigo (“Not like that, Íñigo”).
Although Errejón is not formally challenging Iglesias as leader at the national conference, the two men will offer separate proposals for the party’s future strategy as their camps vie for control of the Civic Council executive board.
“It’s true that lately we’ve had a lot of differences and I think that recently [Errejón] has been making a lot of mistakes — he needs to put things right,” Iglesias told El País newspaper.
As if to highlight what is at stake this weekend, he has said: “There are two projects, two teams and two leaderships.”
Errejón, meanwhile, has underlined his concerns at the party’s move away from the mainstream, towards the left.
“In 2016 there was an ideological and political change in Podemos, which has been more worried about showing how far away it is from the other parties than about setting the agenda in our country,” he told the Eldiario.es newspaper.
“Podemos is still a new party. It has a 5 million-strong voter base, but equally, that could be its voter ceiling” — Iván Redondo, political strategist
Putting it in the pop culture context he and Iglesias are so fond of, he said: “[W]e’re like the guy who follows a band and, when it starts to sell loads of records, he goes back to listening to its earlier sound, which people didn’t listen to much, but which was more original.”
Iván Redondo, a political strategist who has advised the PP in the past, believes Errejón’s plan to occupy the center ground is a gamble.
“Podemos is still a new party,” he said. “It has a 5 million-strong voter base, but equally, that could be its voter ceiling. If they follow Errejón’s plan they’ll be playing on the terms and according to the logic of the traditional parties, which are very powerful in Spain.”
He added: “I don’t think Podemos is ready to win that battle right now.”
On the ground floor of an apartment block in Rivas, a working class district on the southern edge of Madrid, 30 or so people are gathered to discuss the future of Podemos. The barely furnished room, splashed with the party’s trademark purple, is regularly used to host meetings of the local “circle” – one of hundreds of Podemos civic associations across Spain that are the foundation of its popular support.
On this occasion, three Podemos politicians from its anti-capitalist wing — a less influential alternative to the two main clans — have come to talk about their proposals for the party in the hope of winning votes at Vistalegre. Many issues are discussed — austerity, evictions, women’s rights — but the Iglesias-Errejón feud casts a shadow.
“Podemos wasn’t something that was born in the corridors of the Complutense University,” Jacinto Morano, a young deputy for the party in the Madrid regional assembly, told those present. “It has many more voices than the two that we always hear.”
Being removed from the two main rival factions, Morano spoke freely and at times, humorously, insisting that the upcoming assembly is about more than “deciding between Mummy and Daddy, deciding who is prettier, Pablo or Íñigo.”
One woman, seated in the front row, told the visiting politicians: “I’m thinking of not voting at all [this weekend], after watching the fight between the so-called ‘friends.’”
But there is also a more general air of frustration in the room — that Podemos has failed to deliver on its early promise.
“People are more active now, they understand that politics affects you throughout your life,” Concha Vilches, a 58-year-old civil servant and Podemos supporter, told POLITICO after the meeting. “People have become mobilized and this party has channeled that. But what is happening now, unfortunately, we’ve seen it all before.”
She is referring to the Spanish left’s tendency to fracture or self-destruct. The PSOE split into warring factions during its 14 years in government under Felipe González. In the mid-1990s, meanwhile, the communist-led IU ganged up in opposition with the right-wing PP against González’s Socialists — a move widely believed to have alienated many traditional left-leaning voters.
Errejón insists he is not seeking to replace his former friend as leader. But Iglesias has promised to step aside if his proposals are defeated.
During the meeting in Rivas, Vilches got into a heated discussion with the politicians, berating them for Podemos’ failure to reach out to the PSOE and form a leftist coalition government last year. “You can’t change things from the outside,” she told them. “And you’ll never be on the inside unless you’re prepared to make a pact with other parties.”
This weekend, Podemos will try to decide how it moves forward: as an overtly leftist party of protest, mobilizing Spaniards on the streets and disrupting the traditional powers, as Iglesias envisions; or as a more conventional force, trying to win over moderate voters and seeking to bring about change from within parliament and other institutions, as Errejón hopes.
Errejón insists he is not seeking to replace his former friend as leader. But Iglesias has promised to step aside if his proposals are defeated and there is a growing feeling that the upcoming assembly will be much more about the leadership than the many other issues due to be debated.
“The collaborative leadership, which was born in Vistalegre I, has finished,” said Redondo, the political strategist. “Vistalegre II is going to be a referendum: Yes or no to Iglesias?”