Eyeing 2019 elections, Spain’s leftist parties make surprising moves

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena has been approached by rival Socialists to run as their own candidate in upcoming polls

Mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena.
Mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena.ULY MARTIN (EL PAÍS)
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A vacuum on Spain’s political left

With just over a year to go before Spain holds local and regional elections, leftist parties are starting to weigh their options and coming up with a few surprising ideas.

A day after EL PAÍS reported that Socialist Party (PSOE) officials in Madrid had offered the mayor, Manuela Carmena of Ahora Madrid, to become their own candidate in 2019, central party leaders said they were unaware of such a proposal.

Socialists see Carmena as a leftist and a winning candidate

Carmena, who heads a leftist alliance that includes Podemos, is in good standing with the PSOE, which sees her as a “leftist” and a “winning” candidate who is on their same wavelength, according to party sources. The PSOE primaries to select candidates are open to independents, which would theoretically make it possible for her to run.

But national party leaders said that there is no firm offer on the table. The party is planning to come up with “a clearly socialist” proposal and has no mayoral candidate yet, said José Luis Ábalos, the secretary general of organization for the group.

The offer was reportedly made in late December at a meeting between Carmena and top officials of the PSOE’s Madrid branch, although regional leader José Manuel Franco has called it an “informal” proposition. The mayor is said to have been open to the idea, but demanded to include other members of her current team as her running mates, including two members of Podemos. Negotiations stalled after that.

Podemos deputy Carolina Bescansa explaining about the draft document leaked on Telegram.
Podemos deputy Carolina Bescansa explaining about the draft document leaked on Telegram.Emilio Naranjo (EFE)

National leaders had earlier corrected Franco when he told this newspaper that there were plans for a united leftist front to run in the municipal elections, with or without the PSOE acronym in the name. This platform could include high-profile members of Podemos, United Left and other leftist groups, he then said.

Leftist platforms performed well at the last municipal elections of 2015. In the Spanish capital, Carmena’s Ahora Madrid came in second, and Carmena was voted into the mayor’s office thanks to support from the Socialist councilors. In Barcelona, former activist Ada Colau became mayor with Barcelona en Comú, which also includes Podemos as well as green and anti-capitalist groups.

The recent master’s degree scandal engulfing Madrid’s regional premier, Cristina Cifuentes of the conservative Popular Party (PP), is also having a collateral effect on the PSOE: one of its leading members in Madrid, Ángel Gabilondo, once considered a potential mayoral hopeful, is now hoping to replace Cifuentes as regional premier if the Socialist vote of no confidence against her prospers.

Podemos glitch

Meanwhile, Podemos leaders are dealing with a surprise of their own. One of its co-founders and most prominent members, Carolina Bescansa, sent shock waves through the party after sharing a draft proposal on her Telegram channel. The proposal contemplated pushing aside the current secretary general, Pablo Iglesias, through an alliance with Íñigo Errejón, another leading member who has defended a different road map for the party in the past.

The message was deleted just a few minutes after being sent on the social messaging service, and Bescansa has blamed her team for the “glitch.” But the content reflected a desire to be Errejón’s running mate in the regional elections in Madrid, while Errejón would support Bescansa’s own plans to run as the top candidate in the national elections of 2020, and to replace Iglesias as the party’s secretary general.

This document is unacceptable to me. I was unaware of it, it is delusional and absolutely inappropriate

Iñigo Errejón, Podemos

Around midnight, Bescansa announced on Twitter that she is giving up on plans to be Errejón’s running mate for the Madrid regional election of May 2019. National party leaders considered this fleeting document “a matter of utmost gravity.” Errejón has denied the existence of any such plans. “This document is unacceptable to me. I was unaware of it, it is delusional and absolutely inappropriate,” he said.

Bescansa denied plans to replace Iglesias, and said it was a draft created by her team. “I don’t agree with everything that my team drafts,” she said. Bescansa did admit that she is “critical” of Podemos leaders because of “important ideological discrepancies,” but said she respects internal processes “scrupulously.”

In October, at the height of the secessionist challenge in Catalonia, Bescansa diverged from the party’s strategy on the region and demanded “a political project for Spain.” In what became the biggest public crisis for Podemos since Iglesias’ re-election eight months earlier, Bescansa said: “I would like to see a Podemos that talks more to Spain and Spaniards and not just to [Catalan] secessionists.” Since then, Bescansa has been approaching party members with a proposal for constitutional reform that has met with little success so far.

English version by Susana Urra.

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