Podemos kicks off election campaign with massive rally in Madrid

Anti-austerity party admits it will be difficult to win next month’s regional race in Andalusia

A panoramic view of Saturday's rally in Puerta del Sol.
A panoramic view of Saturday's rally in Puerta del Sol.Alejandro Ruesga

Podemos party officials said on Monday that their anti-austerity movement and campaign to win the general elections had been galvanized by this weekend’s massive rally in downtown Madrid.

On Saturday, Podemos initiated its campaign for this year’s local, regional and national races by organizing a rally in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, where party leader Pablo Iglesias demanded a break “from the old political guard.”

Thousands marched from Cibeles square to Puerta del Sol, the same place where the Indignados protest movement began in May 2011. Many chanted “tick-tock, tick-tock” as they marched, in reference to Iglesias’s prediction that the rally would begin the countdown to the end of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government.

Spaniards have quixotic dreams but we take them very seriously”  Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias

EL PAÍS calculated the size of the crowd to be around 153,000 at 1pm on Saturday, while police put the number at 100,000 and Podemos claimed that at least 300,000 attended the gathering.

Despite their satisfaction over the massive turnout, some Podemos leaders acknowledged on Monday that the party might not be able to make a clean sweep in all local and regional elections. For example, the race for regional premier next month in Andalusia – expected to be a bellwether test for Podemos – will be a difficult one.

Luis Alegre, secretary for internal participation, conceded in a SER radio interview that Podemos probably would not be able to wrest power from the Socialists in Andalusia, who have governed there for 25 years. But he was confident that his group would take the elections in Madrid, Valencia and Asturias.

“Andalusia is just around the corner, and we need to develop our platform there,” he said, referring to the early elections called for March 22 by Socialist premier Susana Díaz.”We don’t expect to take over the government in all of Andalusia during these elections.”

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In his address at Saturday’s rally, 36-year-old Podemos leader Iglesias said the primary objective was to defeat Rajoy and his PP in November.

“We begin this year with new things: this is a year of change and we are going to defeat the PP in the elections,” said Iglesias, who reminded his supporters about the January 25 victory in Greece by anti-austerity party Syriza.

In his radio interview comments, Alegre said he did not see the rally as a “self-determination” initiative but as a calling from a social majority in Spain that was demanding “a major role in politics” and changes to institutions that only serve “a privileged minority.”

Other than drumming up support for the movement, no specific demands were made on the Rajoy government at the gathering. All that was repeated was that “change was possible.”

Iglesias was accompanied by fellow party officials Íñigo Errejón, Carolina Bescansa, Juan Carlos Monedero, Irene Montero and Alegre.

“We have protested enough without anyone bothering to listen to us,” said Podemos number two Errejón. “We are here to celebrate that in 2015 people are going to regain their sovereignty and the people are going to win back their country.”

Iglesias said Spaniards had “quixotic dreams but we take them very seriously.”

Thousands turned out in Madrid on Saturday to express support for anti-establishment party Podemos.
Thousands turned out in Madrid on Saturday to express support for anti-establishment party Podemos.Samuel Sanchez (EL PAÍS)

On Sunday, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez rejected that Podemos had the capacity to govern the country.

“It is not the crisis that has abandoned the people, it is the center-right,” he said during the PSOE regional convention in Valencia. Sánchez reiterated that the Socialists were the only true leftist force in the nation and the only rival they recognized was the PP.

For his part, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montero, who last week announced that inspectors would investigate Podemos official Juan Carlos Monedero’s past earnings as a consultant, said on Monday that Podemos formed part of the “radical left no matter how much it tries to disguise itself” and asked its leaders if they were not “embarrassed” about being radicals.

In another development, right-wing union Manos Limpias announced that it was filing a public prosecution complaint in a Madrid court against Monedero for money he supposedly earned from the Venezuelan and other Latin American governments while he was on the public payroll.

Miguel Bernard, secretary general of Manos Limpias, said Monedero alleged extra earnings of €425,150 as a consultant while he was also teaching at Madrid Complutense University (UCM), in violation of public administration laws.

Monedero accused Montero of going after him because of his role in Podemos but said he was not afraid.

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