Spanish Far Left’s Influence Could Be Limited in Coalition

The United Left could play a national role for the first time, but it would still hold little power in a coalition.

The likelihood that the far left will surpass the mainstream Socialists as Spain’s second largest party in the elections this weekend has brought international attention to the Izquierda Unida (United Left), a coalition of left-wing splinter parties that has joined forces with the anti-establishment Podemos. Polls suggest they could get a quarter of the votes combined.

The United Left hasn’t played much of a role in Spanish politics so far. To learn more about it, I asked Raquel Perez, the editor of The ANC-USA Weekly, which summarizes international news on Catalonia, about the influence it might have.

She told me that the parties federated under the umbrella of United Left all have slightly different priorities, ranging from communist to feminist.

They are also based in different parts of Spain and this geographical dispersement matters.

The deal with Podemos would give the United Left one out of every six seats the alliance wins in parliament. But this does not include the Catalan, Galician and Valencian parties, Raquel points out, which account for about 40 percent of the total vote.

“The United Left will therefore end up holding little power in the coalition,” she says.

Nick: Wouldn’t the presence of such a far-left party in a potential coalition with the Socialists give Podemos more leverage, though? To push for far-left policies, like nationalizing industries?

Raquel: According to recent polls, the Podemos-United Left alliance would get around 93 seats against 82 for the Socialists. That would mean nine or ten seats for the United Left — which would be a fivefold increase from the last election but still such a low number that it’s difficult to imagine how they might have their voices heard in a left-wing coalition government.

Nick: Do you expect governing in a left-wing coalition would have a moderating influence on the United Left?

Raquel: Governing is more complicated than it might seem when one runs for office for the first time. As Ada Colau, a former activist who is now the mayor of Barcelona, said in an interview, “It is when you take on the responsibilities of governing that you understand the complexity of many things that you did not understand before.”

She was probably thinking of the increasingly frequent strikes by Barcelona’s public transportation workers and the foreclosures that have continued despite her campaign pledge to stop them. But it’s a statement that could apply more broadly.