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The Podemos Show

Anti-austerity party displays bad manners and a penchant for theatrics at new Congress

Pablo Iglesias at the constituent session of Congress on Wednesday.
Pablo Iglesias at the constituent session of Congress on Wednesday.Sergio Barrenechea (EFE)

Regardless of how events ultimately unfold, it is very positive to see our parliamentary institutions up and running after getting a broad makeover, reflecting the strong desire for change expressed by voters at the polls on December 20.

It might be a short or a long political term, depending on the will of the political groups. But in any case, it will be a very different one from its predecessors, since this is the first time in 39 years of democracy that the house’s largest minority falls so short of an absolute majority.

Podemos has an evident problem: its leaders are so used to television cameras that they mistook Spanish Congress for a TV set”

This does not mean, however, that the changes are of such a nature as to be considered a before and after in the history of Spanish democracy, as insinuated on Wednesday by Podemos’s number two official, Íñigo Errejón.

Rather, Wednesday would have been a good moment to reflect on the importance of joining a parliament that once included the likes of Dolores Ibárruri – a Civil War republican heroine known as La Pasionaria – or the poet and Communist Rafael Alberti. And also on the fact that this chamber is where the Constitution was drafted and voted in, becoming the centerpiece of democratic legitimacy in Spain despite the various ups and downs of its implementation.

There was an excessive lack of respect for parliament on Wednesday. The Podemos deputies went too far in their personalized oaths to the Constitution, which they accepted, although they immediately felt compelled to add a postscript saying that they will work to change it.

More information
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Podemos swears to abide by Constitution “in order to change it”

This political ambition can easily be channeled through parliamentary work, without the need to turn a plenary session of Congress into a theatrical stage where each individual’s imagination is all that is required to put on a little show for the audience. Podemos has an evident problem: its leaders are so used to being before the cameras that they mistook the Spanish Congress for a TV set.

Was it really necessary to place a hurdle in the way of new house speaker Patxi López’s election by nominating a candidate of its own, Carolina Bescansa? Obviously this nominee never stood a chance of winning, yet Podemos insisted on going through the motions as part of their game to give their supporters a good show.

It is also worth asking if Pablo Iglesias knows what he is talking about when he uses the expression “the bunker trio” to describe the three parties (the Popular Party, the Socialists (PSOE) and Ciudadanos) that reached a deal to get the speaker and members of the governing body of the lower house, the Mesa del Congreso, elected.

This bad precedent puts insurmountable obstacles in the way of the Socialist leader’s idea of seeking a government majority”

Iglesias’s bad tone right at the start of the new political term was underscored by his reaction to the deals that got the Mesa members elected. These deals should not be seen as political so much as functional: it was necessary to start the new political term, and electing Mesa members was a required step for a functioning parliament.

This is a bad precedent that puts nearly insurmountable obstacles in the way of Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez’s idea of seeking a government majority in partnership with this group. By the way, the other parties respected Podemos by letting it have a representation on the Mesa that is proportionate to its parliamentary presence.

It is a shame that the constituent session of Congress had to run along these lines. In any case, the institution is now in working mode and we must trust that time and experience gained in handling parliamentary affairs will bring back to the chamber the kind of gravitas that is expected of this new political era. The ability of new speaker Patxi López to navigate difficult political situations can contribute greatly to this.

English version by Susana Urra.

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