Podemos founders go their separate ways ahead of Madrid elections

Pablo Iglesias confirms party split and says he is saddened by the surprise news that his colleague Iñigo Errejón will run with the Madrid mayor in May

Podemos founders Pablo Iglesias (r) and Íñigo Errejón in Congress.
Podemos founders Pablo Iglesias (r) and Íñigo Errejón in Congress.Sergio Barrenechea (EFE)

On January 17, the fifth anniversary of the creation of Podemos, two of its leading founders publicly confirmed the fracture of the left-wing party.

Íñigo Errejón, a top official at the group that he helped transform from an anti-austerity movement into a national force with parliamentary and institutional presence, on Thursday announced his decision to run for the Madrid regional premiership at the May election in alliance with Más Madrid, the party created by the mayor of the Spanish capital, Manuela Carmena.

Madrid is not the only place where Podemos is running into trouble

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias said he was “saddened” by the surprise news, and wished Errejón “good luck building his new party.” He also confirmed that Podemos will be running with a candidate of its own at the May election, in direct competition with his former colleague.

Andalusia effect

Errejón’s decision has been influenced by the outcome of last month’s regional election in Andalusia, where the Socialist Party (PSOE) lost its decades-long grip on power to a conservative coalition backed by a far-right party named Vox, which earned 12 seats.

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena and Iñigo Errejón.
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena and Iñigo Errejón.@MANUELACARMENA (Europa Press)

The Podemos-United Left alliance Adelante Andalucía secured 17 seats, compared with a combined 20 when both groups ran separately in 2015.

“Andalusia has been a wake-up call,” said Errejón and Carmena in a joint statement written like an open letter to all residents of Madrid. The new partnership aims to build a project that will “renew citizens’ dreams and faith that things can be done even better.”

“Sad news”

In a message posted via Facebook, Pablo Iglesias – who is currently on paternity leave – said that he never imagined things would turn out this way on the party’s fifth anniversary.

“In politics, one must get used to this type of move, even from your own colleagues, but I admit that I’ve taken a hit, and I feel saddened,” wrote Iglesias in a post. “I could not imagine that today, when we should be celebrating the fifth birthday of Podemos, things would be like this.”

With all due respect, Íñigo is not Manuela

Pablo Iglesias

High-ranking Podemos officials said that Errejón will not be formally kicked out of the party, since “he has already placed himself outside of it.” These sources said, however, that Errejón should give up the congressional seat he holds as a Podemos representative.

“With all due respect, Íñigo is not Manuela,” added Iglesias. “I can’t believe that Manuela and Iñigo were concealing the fact that they were working on an electoral project of their own for the Madrid region, and that they made a surprise announcement. Our members deserve more respect than that.”

Madrid Mayor Carmena declined to comment on the internal crisis affecting Podemos, and underscored that she herself is an independent, although she ran for office with a leftist group named Ahora Madrid that included politicians from Podemos.

Carmena said that the differences between herself and Errejón – she is 74, he is 35 – “are a metaphor for what we want for Madrid: different viewpoints that meet in a shared project.”

Personal breakup

The differences between Iglesias and Errejón go back to 2016, when the former decided to join forces with the United Left (IU) in the general election. A few months later, in February 2017, Podemos held a congress to renew the party leadership and Errejón headed a current defending different political goals from those championed by Iglesias, whose views ultimately won out.

Then, in May of last year, Errejón ran in party primaries to find a candidate to the Madrid regional premiership. He won the nomination, but new problems arose when his first choice as a running mate was overlooked and a different person named without his prior knowledge or approval.

With four months to go before Spain holds local and regional elections, Madrid is not the only place where Podemos is running into trouble. In the northwestern region of Galicia, its En Marea coalition is breaking up. In Cantabria, the party is currently headed by an interim management committee. And in Barcelona, primaries will determine whether Podemos runs in the municipal elections with Mayor Ada Colau once again.

In May of last year, Iglesias survived a confidence vote when he put his leadership to the test after being heavily criticized for purchasing a €600,000 country house in Galapagar, a town northwest of Madrid, with his partner Irene Montero.

English version by Susana Urra.

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