If there is one thing that hasn’t changed in the self-styled “ayuntamientos of change” – city councils in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and other places where Podemos has been in power with a variety of partners since the 2015 local elections – that is the turbulent relationships that have always defined the Spanish political left.
One of the consequences of Podemos’ speedy expansion across the Spanish geography is that it does not have the same influence, or the same room for political maneuvering, at the local level as it does at the regional and national levels.
The sheer number of partners that make up Zaragoza en Común sums up the complexities that Mayor Pedro Santisteve faces every day
The crisis gripping the Ahora Madrid coalition headed by Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena is just the latest chapter in a series of conflicts within the popular unity alliances headed by Podemos.
“Each alliance is different, each organization is different and the actors are not the same, either,” sums up a Podemos official with ties to the Madrid mayor, regarding that party’s nationwide political partners.
The United Left (IU) and Podemos officials queried by this newspaper said that Mayor Carmena’s decision to remove Carlos Sánchez Mato from his post as the municipal finance chief is an isolated matter that is limited to Madrid city politics. Mato was sacked when he refused to endorse the financial adjustment plan that he had himself presented to the city council.
Instead, Podemos likes to talk about the situation at “the rest of the ayuntamientos of change,” where “economic management is being exquisite, and where the terms of an unfair and stringent spending rule are being observed,” in a reference to demands for adjustment by the Spanish Finance Ministry.
This exquisite management is presumably on display in Barcelona, Cádiz, Zaragoza, Valencia and also Zamora, which is governed by IU. Yet the situation there is unstable as well, partly because the Socialist Party (PSOE) is absent from the governing teams.
Barring Madrid, Barcelona is a good illustration of the problems that leftist coalitions are encountering in their day-to-day governance.
In November, grassroot members of Barcelona en Comú, the party of Mayor Ada Colau – a former social activist who used to campaign against home evictions – decided to sever their alliance with the Catalan Socialists (PSC) over the Spanish government’s application of Article 155 of the Constitution. This provision allowed Madrid to oust the secessionist government of Carles Puigdemont, and call a snap election to find new leaders for the region. The move was supported by the PSC but not by Colau’s party.
The Socialists always defended that their local coalition in Barcelona was working well, and they were upset by a vote that yielded 54.18% support for breaking with the PSC. Many other members of Barcelona en Comú, in turn, were angry that Colau even organized the ballot in the first place. The PSC was contributing four councilors to Barcelona en Comú’s 11, out of a total of 41 seats in the city council.
The question now is whether these rarefied relations could influence any future negotiations if the outcome of the Catalan elections allows for a left-wing majority in the regional assembly. This is the kind of deal being sought by Catalunya En Comú-Podem, which could well find itself in the role of kingmaker if, as expected, no party or bloc secures enough seats for a majority on Thursday.
Cádiz: love and hate
The relationship between Por Cádiz Sí Se Puede and the Socialist Party (PSOE) is an emotional, political and hyperbolic roller coaster. Following an 11th-hour agreement, José María González Kichi of Podemos became mayor of this southern city despite having no more than eight councilors out of 27 seats in the council, where 10 seats are held by the Popular Party (PP). This was made possible through support from the five Socialist councilors. The alternative would have been to allow the PP's Teófila Martínez to get re-elected after a 20-year tenure.
The relationship between Podemos and the PSOE could be defined as “yes, but no” according to a source close to the governing team. The Socialists have grudgingly backed a few key items such as the budget, but they have also teamed up with the PP and Ciudadanos to take the top positions away from Podemos at the Municipal Women’s Foundation and the company that manages the local TV station Onda Cádiz. The mayor has complained that these moves were nothing more than “an undercover, serialized no-confidence motion.”
The seeds of discord within València en Comú, the Podemos-participated coalition that governs the city of Valencia together with the Socialists and the regional party Compromís, were sown early in the political term. After several crises, government spokesman and second deputy mayor Jordi Peris, an independent, resigned and went back to teaching at university. His reasons for quitting were “the internal power struggles and scheming.”
“Podemos has a roadmap that I no longer feel a part of,” he said. “It has reproduced the vices of the left and of old-style politics.”
The coalition advisor, Áurea Ortiz, walked away at the same time, noting that Podemos was “a minefield.”
Two years’ worth of political infighting has slowed down action on several key issues for Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. But the opposition is pointing the finger of blame at Mayor Joan Ribó, of Compromís, which has nine councilors compared to five for the Socialists and three for València en Comú.
The sheer number of partners that make up Zaragoza en Común (IU, Podemos, Equo, Puyalón, Piratas de Aragón, Demos+ and Somos) sums up the complexities that Mayor Pedro Santisteve faces every day when he goes to work. Besides the internal balancing act within his own group, this lawyer and university professor also has to retain the support of the Socialist Party and the regional Chunta Aragonesista, both of which voted him into the mayor’s office although they are not part of the governing team. Their support is crucial if the city wants to get its 2018 budget approved. With negotiations underway, the Socialists have already walked out of the Public Services Committee in protest over disagreements with the commissioner in charge of this area.
English version by Susana Urra.