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Pablo Iglesias Steps Down from Spanish Government to Avoid Electoral Defeat in Madrid

The leader of the Spanish political party Podemos announced on Monday that he would be stepping down as Vice President of the coalition government to run in the upcoming Madrid elections. The move is aimed at mitigating the crisis in Podemos, taking a step back from the central government and forcing an agreement with his former political partner, Íñigo Errejón.

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The leader of the Spanish political party Podemos announced on Monday that he would be stepping down as Vice President of the coalition government to run in the upcoming Madrid elections. The move is aimed at mitigating the crisis in Podemos, taking a step back from the central government and forcing an agreement with his former political partner, Íñigo Errejón.

The Secretary General of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, announced in a video on Monday that he would be resigning as Vice President of the governing coalition between Podemos and the “socialists” of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), led by Pedro Sánchez. He is stepping down to run in the left-wing coalition Unidas Podemos in the elections on May 4 for the Madrid regional government.

“I’m going to run in the elections on May 4 for the Community of Madrid,” which is currently governed by the conservative right of the People’s Party (PP), said Iglesias in a video on social media.

“I’ve thought a lot about it and I’ve decided that if voters want me to do it, I’ll run in the primaries for the Community of Madrid elections,” said Iglesias, who asserted that “a militant should be where he can be most useful.”

The 42-year-old leader has been Vice President of Social Rights and one of four deputy prime ministers since January 2020 when Podemos became part of the governing coalition as a minority partner of the PSOE.

Iglesias announced that he had informed Sánchez of his “decision to step down when the campaign begins,” and proposed that the current Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, a member of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and of Unidas Podemos, fill his seat once he leaves office. All of these changes would have to be accepted by President Pedro Sánchez.

These changes are aimed at breathing new life into Podemos, which has been hit by a series of electoral defeats. Iglesias also seeks to distance himself from the central government and the PSOE, which was at the center of a scandal in Murcia after it sought to negotiate a secret motion of no confidence against the local government of the PP in an agreement with the right-wing party Ciudadanos. 

Ciudadanos, which emerged as a right-wing alternative to the conservative PP — just as Podemos sought to position itself to the left of the PSOE — is in crisis mode after the resignation of many of its members, who are migrating to the PP, and under pressure from the extreme right-wing party VOX. Iglesias intends to prevent Podemos from suffering the same fate, seeking to infuse new energy into the party by competing in Madrid and pressuring for an agreement with his former partner and founder of Podemos, Íñigo Errejón, who broke with Podemos a few years ago to found his own organization, Más Madrid.

In terms of electoral performance, the defeats of Podemos and its political partners in Galicia and the Basque Country, as well as their stagnation and irrelevance in Catalonia and the forecasts for the polls in Madrid, where they could be excluded from the Legislative Assembly, have shown that the political space of Spanish neo-reformism occupied by Podemos is being taken over by the left wing of the bipartisan system that they helped to rebuild.

On the other hand, the failure of the so-called “Murcia Operation” has left the PSOE and its current partners (Unidas Podemos), as well as its potential partners (Más Madrid), in a tight spot.

Alejandro Bravo, editor of Izquierda Diario in the Spanish State, points out that

Losing Madrid would mean the virtual disappearance of Podemos from the regional scenario, which could be the first step towards political irrelevance. Iglesias’s decision should be understood as an attempt to ensure the survival of the political project. In the short term, they will seek to avoid a new debacle in the upcoming elections. In the long term, this could be a new attempt by Unidas Podemos to reposition itself with respect to the PSOE which, according to each new poll, seems to be growing continuously at the expense of its minority partners.

Iglesias seeks to present his candidacy as part of an epic struggle against the Right and the extreme Right, and is calling for the Left to unite. This move is mainly aimed at forcing an agreement with Más Madrid, but also at establishing his hegemony over the entire social and political Left of Madrid.

But Iglesias and Podemos’s hardened rhetoric cannot hide the fact that their proposal is more of the same: to continue to support lesser-evilism. To avoid a future government of the PP and VOX, they would be willing to reach an agreement with the PSOE — and maybe even with Ciudadanos.

Their participation in Sánchez’s current government is a clear example of the results of neo-reformism. Bravo continued,

The ‘most progressive government in history’ has not only failed to make good on the vast majority of the coalition’s limited commitments, but has also unloaded the burden of the economic and health crisis on the shoulders of the working class and the oppressed, by rescuing large companies, saving to the corrupt monarchy from one of its biggest crises, opening new CIEs (immigrant detention centers), maintaining the reactionary Immigration Law, and repressing the youth who took to the streets to protest for freedom of speech.

Santiago Lupe, spokesman for the Revolutionary Workers’ Current (CRT) said, “This decision could go wrong and they could have another electoral disaster on their hands. In that case, Podemos could end up sinking at the same time as the ‘right-wing Podemos,’ Ciudadanos.” But if it’s a winning bet, there are two possibilities. If Iglesias achieves his goal, it will have been at a high cost, but he could preserve his political project for the time being, and, incidentally, strengthen the party’s position in the Council of Ministers. Whether he does this as the head of the opposition to a Madrid government run by PP and Vox or as part of a new autonomous government within a broad coalition — which could include Ciudadanos, if they’re still relevant — remains to be seen on election day.

With regard to the proposal of once again voting for the lesser evil, Lupe says,

We at the CRT are proposing that we break with this eternal ‘lesser-evilism’ that keeps pushing policy to the right. Stopping the advance of the right in the PP and Vox today, according to Podemos, includes the possibility of forming a coalition with the neo-right of Ciudadanos, and tomorrow it could include supporting the PP to prevent it from forming a coalition with Vox. Our proposal to Anticapitalistas, Izquierda Revolucionaria, other groups like Corriente Roja, and union activists, students, the women’s movement and anti-racist groups, is to form an anti-capitalist, class-based front that will fight for a program to ensure that the capitalists pay for the crisis, based on the development of a social movement to fight neoliberal policies and the advance of the right, and completely independent of the ‘progressive’ wing of the establishment, which aims to apply the same austerity policies against us. 

Building a new Left is increasingly vital. The advance of the Right can’t be stopped by a ‘Left’ that contributes to the general demoralization and lack of solutions to serious social problems, which is the breeding ground for forces like Vox. But also, without a Left that has a program based on the development of social movements and self-organization to fight for an anti-capitalist program, there is no solution to the major issues of unemployment, housing or poverty, and it won’t be possible to put an end to the monarchical regime that is a product of the Dictatorship.

First published on March 15 in Spanish in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Marisela Trevin

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