Catalan crisis underscores divide within Podemos

Three years after its creation, founding members have dropped out of the front lines

Podem leader Albano Dante Fachin.
Podem leader Albano Dante Fachin.Quique García (EFE)
Àngels Piñol

The Catalan crisis has caused a deep fracture between Spanish anti-establishment party Podemos and its Catalan subsidiary, Podem. Both branches are at odds over the independence declaration and the snap election announced for December 21.

Central leaders have complained about the “damage” to the party’s “political prestige” caused by Podem leaders’ sympathies for the independence movement in Catalonia, where Podem urged people to go vote in the banned referendum of October 1.

A Podemos faction known as Anticapitalistas,  quickly recognized “the new Catalan republic”

Podemos officials in Madrid oppose the unilateral declaration of independence and instead support holding a valid referendum with legal guarantees.

Podem’s leader, Albano Dante Fachin, describes himself as non-separatist and a supporter of a plurinational state. On Thursday of last week he spoke against the independence declaration inside the Catalan assembly.

But Podem deputies then proceeded to vote on the controversial motion paving the way for an independent republic, a move that caught Podemos leaders in Madrid by surprise.

The latter are accusing Podem of failing to keep them appraised of the situation. “The lack of information and the behavior by our deputies during the vote triggered a situation of unease within this body and the entire organization,” said Podemos in a statement.

Podemos founders in October 2014.
Podemos founders in October 2014.

There were 83 deputies inside the 135-seat chamber at the time of the vote – the rest had all walked out in protest. The outcome was 70-10 in favor of the declaration, with two abstentions.

A Podemos faction known as Anticapitalistas, which is the majority current within Podem’s leadership, quickly recognized “the new Catalan republic.”

And Podem deputy Àngels Martínez Castells on Saturday tweeted a welcome message to “the republic” and stated that “the president of the Catalan republic is Carles Puigdemont” despite the fact that he had by then been sacked as part of the emergency measures included in Article 155.

Abnormal election?

Meanwhile, the early election announced by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is proving to be another source of friction.

Parties have until November 7 to register as a coalition and campaign as such. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias wants Podem to merge with the leftist group Catalunya En Comú, and the central leadership on Sunday held an emergency meeting to approve polling Podem members about this move.

Podem grassroots members will be asked “Do you support having Podem run in the December 21 election in Catalonia in coalition with Catalunya en Comú and sister forces that support neither the declaration of independence nor the application of 155?”

But Podem held a meeting of its own and concluded that the December 21 election cannot be considered “normal.” On Saturday, Fachin stated that he does not support running “just to scratch four seats” and added that it is “a contradiction” to participate in the election unless a joint strategy is encouraged to respect the spirit of October 1.

Divided founders

José Marcos

Catalonia is not the only place where Podemos is running into diverging opinions. Several of its founding members have gone their own way, a little more than three years after the party’s creation in the wake of a prolonged crisis that spawned the Indignados movement in Spain.

In October 2014, Luis Alegre, Carolina Bescansa, Juan Carlos Monedero, Tania González and Íñigo Errejón sat next to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias as the latter expressed his dream of “occupying the center of the playing board.”

In time, issues such as the Catalan crisis or Podemos’ relationship with the Socialist Party (PSOE) have pushed these officials apart.

Luis Alegre, who returned to academia following a crisis as secretary general for the Madrid region wrote: “I have never come across anything so harmful as the clique that is prepared to destroy everything so long as they do not lose their condition of courtesan. I am sure that Pablo will realize this a year or two after his people have destroyed him, but it will be late by then.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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