By Devika Kohli:
Podemos (we can) has become a household name in Spain today. It is a newly formed party which after merely 15 months of formation is topping opinion polls. It has already won 5 seats in the European parliament and won 15 seats in the Andalusian provincial parliament during March elections. Interestingly, the sudden and swift rise of Podemos (we can), a left wing anti-corruption party can be compared to that of Aam Aadmi Party in India. Incidentally AAP had also started as a movement against corruption and today only 3 years after its formation, the party has had a massive win during Delhi Legislative Assembly elections making Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, leader of AAP, the Chief Minister of Delhi.
Today, Podemos, has become a serious threat to the neoliberal conservative parties such as Partido Popular (PP, also currently the ruling party in Spain) and Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) which have ruled alternatively in Spain for more than thirty years i.e. since the end of Franco dictatorship in 1975. In fact according to a recent poll, if General elections were to be held in Spain today (due later in November this year), Podemos would have formed the government, with the PP, the PSOE, and the new right-wing Ciudadanos (citizen’s) party falling close behind. Clearly the Spanish electorate, tired of years of high unemployment, low growth and austerity policies, seems to have rejected the two main parties opting for the untested minority parties in hope for a change.
Podemos, Syriza and HDP – The rise of left in Europe?
Any discussion about Podemos though would be incomplete without mentioning Syriza, a left wing political party in Greece. Iglesias has from the very beginning linked himself to Syriza and when it became the first anti-austerity party to gain power in the Eurozone, he affirmed that “2015 will be the year of change in Spain and Europe”. Indeed the political landscape of Europe seems to be changing as Turkey has also found its equivalent to Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza in pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which believes that Kurdish rights are more likely to be achieved by radically reforming Turkish democracy. Like Podemos, HDP, to everyone’s surprise, crossed the 10 percent election threshold in the 2015 general elections in Turkey party and in doing so has ended the ruling AK Party’s more than a decade of single rule. The rise of these three parties can be explained by the fact that they embody a promise of change.
The seed of Podemos: The indignados movement
The huge cuts made in public spending (such as freezing pension accounts, reducing money allocated to National Health Service) implemented by the socialist PSOE government and liberal PP government infuriated people since these policies did not have popular mandate nor were they part of the electoral program of these parties. The popular sentiment was that the ‘so called’ democratic representative institutions acted in favor of large-employer interests to achieve the policies they had wanted for a long time—the reduction of salaries and the dismantling of social protections (there have been large scale evictions in Spain, highly regressive labor reforms have made it easier for employers to fire workers). Such policies were presented as the only possible solution available to the government to tackle the economic crisis since “there were no alternatives”, a claim challenged by the economists Vicenç Navarro, Juan Torres, and Alberto Garzón in their book ‘There are Alternatives’.
It was in response to this callous political attitude and extreme poverty that the the indignados movement was born in 2007. It demanded an end to the 1978 regime (the political system established in 1978 when the dictatorship ended) and the establishment of an authentic democratic system and emphasized the need for the substitution of the existing representative institutions with new ones, with their motto being “there are alternatives.” The leaders of indignados soon realized that they would have to intervene on the political front for any real lasting change and thus Podemos was born.
The reason behind the success of Podemos
Podemos’s message, “Vote against the caste: Throw all of them out,” went down well with people. It can be said without doubt that a majority of the people were fed up with the political and media establishments. People felt a deep resentment against ‘la casta’ (the caste) which includes the governing elites who were seen as working in tandem with major financial and non-financial corporations in control of major political and media establishments of the country. Podemos has also promised to restructure the public debt, make corporations pay taxes, and end the austerity regime imposed on the country by the EU and the two establishment parties (PP and POES) since the 2007 economic crisis.
Cristina Flesher Fominaya, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and author of the book Social Movements and Globalization: How Protests, Occupations and Uprisings are changing the World told Asad Ismi  that Podemos represents “a historic opportunity to break the hold of a two-party system and to try to regenerate Spanish democracy.” Podemos is doing this “by offering an alternative political party model…that is not beholden to private capitalist interests but is instead crowd funded through small donations [and] that seeks to maintain contact with social movements and with grassroots party activists”.
Podemos has definitely changed the political landscape of Spain in a very short time by destroying the hold of two main political parties and involving thousands of youth in its democratic process. However, only time and the general elections in November will tell if it lives up to all that it promises.