Podemos Calls for Left-Wing Coalition in Spain

The anti-establishment movement’s eagerness to govern poses a dilemma for the mainstream Socialists.

Pablo Iglesias and other members of Spain's Podemos party listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, July 9, 2014
Pablo Iglesias and other members of Spain’s Podemos party listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, July 9, 2014 (GUE/NGL)

Spain’s anti-establishment Podemos party called for a left-wing coalition on Friday, led by the Socialists.

If the two agree, “there can be a government of change,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said.

Such an alliance would require the support of smaller parties on the left and could still fall short of a majority without at least the acquiescence of the liberal Ciudadanos.

Coalitions

Iglesias spoke after meeting King Felipe VI in Madrid who is expected to first ask Mariano Rajoy, the outgoing prime minister, to try to form a government.

Rajoy’s People’s Party lost its majority in the election last month, but still has a plurality of the seats in parliament.

The Socialists came in second with ninety out of 350 seats.

Rajoy has proposed a left-right coalition, including the Ciudadanos.

Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez has ruled out such a pact, saying he would rather form a “great coalition of progressive forces.”

On Friday, he was even more explicit, saying, “Socialist voters would not understand that Pablo Iglesias and I would not manage to find an understanding.”

Risky

Pulling the untested Podemos into a coalition is risky, though.

Iglesias said on Friday he was ready to accept Sánchez as prime minister, but claimed the role of deputy prime minister for himself and demanded several important ministries.

Many Socialist Party voters would prefer a coalition with Podemos over one with Rajoy’s conservatives. In the case of the latter, Podemos could claim to be the only credible left-wing alternative to pro-European and market-friendly policies.

But many Socialist Party bigwigs rightly worry that governing with Podemos will discredit them in the eyes of centrist voters as well as foreign investors.

The anti-establishment movement’s platform is a potpourri of far-left policies, from nationalizing major industries and stopping profit-making companies from laying off workers to reducing the retirement age and restructuring Spain’s debt. It no longer supports an exit from the euro, but Iglesias still wants to take Spain out of NATO. None of this rhymes well with the Socialists’

Catalan secession

Catalonia is another stumbling block. The regional government in Barcelona is committed to seceding from Spain. Podemos favors calling a binding referendum on independence. The Socialists and the Ciudadanos — originally a Catalan party — are adamantly opposed to breaking up Spain.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said on Thursday that his party was prepared to abstain in favor of either Rajoy or Sanchez to avoid a new election and provide stability at a time when the Spanish economy, the fifth largest in Europe, is recovering from its worst crisis in decades.

Assuming parliament rejects Rajoy, the parties will have two months to form a government or elections must be held again.