The story of Podemos was built on one word: “change.”
One year after garnering 1.2 million votes at the European elections, the anti-austerity party – which was born from ideas first debated at the Teatro del Barrio, in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighborhood – hopes to change Spain’s political map in Sunday’s regional and local elections.
The party, led by Pablo Iglesias, has marched to the tune of one of its anthems, Todo cambia (Everything changes), which was popularized by the late Argentinean folk singer Mercedes Sosa.
We grew up in a daring, fast operation – it was almost an attack”
A lot has changed in the organization since its inception. Although it was never meant to be just an experiment, Podemos has grown from a radical group to a party that may capture a significant amount of power after May 25.
Besides Iglesias, the principal architect behind Podemos is Íñigo Errejón, who is in charge of the party’s policy and strategy.
During a recent shakeup within the party ranks – prompted by the departure of Juan Carlos Monedero – Errejón was accused by his former party colleague of shifting Podemos toward the moderate side of the political spectrum. “Moderation could disarm Podemos,” Monedero said
Errejón rejects Monedero’s claims.
“We grew up in a daring, fast operation – it was almost like an attack. Our adversaries had a lot of difficulties in trying to get a message across that could seduce the average citizen. At first, they didn’t get the hang of it, but they finally reacted,” explains Errejón during a recent interview on a flight from Madrid to Mallorca.
In his view, he believes that the other parties began to understand bit-by-bit where five professors from Madrid’s Complutense University, who drafted the original Podemos platform, were coming from.
“The fear campaign is something that should not be overlooked. When they say that we are going to take everyone’s second home, they are not offering a very sophisticated political argument. But it works for them,” he explains.
In the past months, Podemos – as Iglesias has acknowledged – has made its share of mistakes and struggled on occasions to apply effective damage-control tactics. During the Andalusia regional race in March, Podemos candidate Teresa Rodríguez didn’t hide the fact that she disagreed with Iglesias over certain policies. The public dispute reflected that there were rumblings within the ranks.
The fear campaign is something that should not be overlooked ”
Errejón believes that Albert Rivera and his Ciudadanos party, which has also soared in recent polls, has also learned his lesson – just as Podemos had to learn – which is not to overexpose themselves by throwing out different ideas every single day.
“You need to speak a language that addresses change, which has to go along with ideas that are intended to attract those who want change and can serve the big powers that are in control.”
Podemos has had to tone down its original message, which included radical ideas such as defaulting on some of Spain’s debt commitments and introducing a basic universal income for everyone – pledges that it defended during last year’s European election, at which it won five seats.
But that type of “moderation” – or “realistic thinking,” as Iglesias puts it – is what drew the anger of one of the party’s co-founders, Juan Carlos Monedero, who abandoned the organization after criticizing several of his party colleagues.
You need to speak a language that addresses change”
Although he didn’t mention Errejón by name, Monedero described him in an EL PAÍS interview as one of the “mediocre generals” that exist in the party.
Errejón, now the second-highest-ranking member in Podemos, says he doesn’t feel offended by Monedero’s statements. He and Monedero have grown distant over the past few months.
Iglesias, for his part, had an unequivocal view on things on Wednesday: “In Podemos, there are no mediocre generals.”
Errejón describes how Podemos has changed within the last year. “Imagine that we are a small boat, sailing fast at high speed. Now we are more of a battleship, with greater presence, contacts, capabilities and political weight. And I think it is now more difficult to say that we represent an apocalypse for Spain,” he says, in reference to views expressed by some current politicians.
This week, the Popular Party’s (PP) Madrid mayoral candidate, Esperanza Aguirre, said that if Podemos eventually rises to power, Spaniards “will no longer be able to vote in a free election.”
But Errejón is convinced that “change is irreversible,” despite a long period of stubborn resistance by the major parties.
Nevertheless, party policymakers and strategists also have to make concessions in order to make progress. In this respect, Errejón quotes former Uruguayan President José Mujica.
Party policymakers and strategists also have to make concessions in order to make progress
“He would say, ‘I came from a political tradition in which every day is D-Day, but you learn that the most important thing in politics is in the meantime’.”
That “meantime” is the basis of everyday politics that Podemos hopes to use beginning on Monday by initiating talks in regional parliaments and local city halls to forge agreements and push for acceptance of measures, which Errejón says are “not Podemos’s ideas, but just plain common sense.”
“On May 25, a lot of people will see that there will be no apocalypse.”