New party shakes up politics in Spain


MADRID: A far-left party set up only in January is surging in Spain’s opinion polls ahead of next year’s general election, feeding off anger over corruption and unemployment, and shaking up the traditional two-party system.

Podemos, which means “We Can” in Spanish, took first place in a survey of voting intentions for the first time on Sunday.

The poll published in center-left daily newspaper El Pais gave it 27.7-percent support, just ahead of the Socialists with 26.2 percent. The ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) was third with 20.7 percent.

The newspaper called it a “political earthquake.”

“Never before has a new party achieved such a level of voting intention,” it said.

Podemos, led by pony-tailed university professor Pablo Iglesias, grew out of the “Indignados” movement against economic inequality and corruption that occupied Spanish squares in 2011.

As well as promising to end corruption, it calls for a 35-hour work week, public control over “strategic” sectors of the economy, and the lowering the retirement age to 60 to redistribute job opportunities.

Another survey—by state pollster CIS —put Podemos in a close third with 22.5 percent, just behind the Socialists at 23.9 percent and PP on 27.5 percent.

Analysts said the party had plugged into mounting discontent with Spain’s two big establishment parties which have dominated politics since the country returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

Its rapid rise is “a shock,” said Anton Losada, a political scientist at Santiago de Compostela University, adding that Podemos was draining support from voters on both the left and right.

“It is fueled by a growing dissatisfaction with traditional parties and a lack of response from them to the problems that worry Spaniards the most: the economic crisis and corruption,” he added.

Podemos parallels the rise of anti-establishment parties elsewhere in Europe, such as Italy’s 5-star Movement, Greece’s Syriza and Britain’s UKIP.

The party shot to prominence after it won 1.2 million votes and five seats in the European elections in May 2014 with a campaign budget of just 150,000 euros ($190,000), much to the surprise of analysts.

It fielded young candidates who are new to politics and relied heavily on social media.



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