Spain’s anti-establishment movement Podemos joined forces with the formerly communist United Left this week to improve its chances of besting the mainstream Socialists in the next election.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, prone to hyperbole, described the pact as “historic”.
It looks less impressive at a glance. The United Left won only two seats in the last election against 69 for Podemos. Reflecting this imbalance, the former will get one seat in the new coalition for every six won by Podemos.
The seats allocation hides the United Left’s true strength, though. It got nearly one million votes in December when Podemos got over five million. But it was punished by an electoral system that gives disproportionate strength to rural districts.
Analysts have calculated that an alliance between the two parties could have given the far left fourteen more seats in the current parliament.
Polls for the elections in June do not suggest huge swings yet. If Spaniards vote more or less the same as they did in December, Podemos and the United Left would win and possibly push the Socialists into third place, behind themselves and the conservative People’s Party.
But there’s also an argument to be made against the pact.
Podemos, which emerged from the anti-austerity protest movement, brands itself as a breath of fresh air. At a time when the established parties are buckling under corruption scandals, it promises to transcend the old divides and try something new.
Its alliance with the United Left might seem to belie that sentiment. It rather confirms what Podemos‘ right-wing critics have been saying all along: that it’s hip, Web 2.0 exterior can’t hide what is an unrepentantly Marxist movement at heart.
Aside from its ideas for democratizing political decisionmaking in Spain, many of Podemos‘ policy proposals are hardly imaginative. It wants to nationalize industries, restructure Spain’s debt, pull out of NATO. This is why the center-left Socialists couldn’t bring themselves to invite Podemos to a coalition after the election in December gave neither them nor outgoing prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party a majority.
The Socialists’ strategy is to blame Podemos for the failure to form a government, which triggered the snap elections for June. They asked Pablo Iglesias to prop up a center-left coalition with the liberal Ciudadanos and Iglesias refused.
“Pablo Iglesias closed the door and threw away the lock,” the Socialist Party leader, Pedro Sánchez, has said, adding that by doing so, “he has given Rajoy a second chance.”
That is certainly the more likely outcome than a left-wing government. Any gains in seats the United Left-Podemos coalition makes would come at the expense of the Socialists. The conservatives are the ones who could walk away from that fight with a governing majority.