The founding leader of left-wing party Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, dropped another political bombshell last night once the results of the Madrid regional elections became clear. The politician, who recently stepped down as one of Spain’s deputy prime ministers in the Socialist Party-Unidas Podemos national coalition government, announced that he was walking away from all of his roles in Spanish politics. After a tense campaign, which saw death threats mailed to him and a number of other high-profile politicians, his party only garnered 10 seats in the regional assembly and 7.21% of the vote. The poor showing precipitated an exit from the frontline that he had been preparing for some time.
“I’m leaving all of my positions,” he said late last night. “I’m leaving politics as understood as party and institutional politics. I will continue to be committed to my country, but I won’t stand in the way of a renewal in leadership that needs to happen in our political force.”
Iglesias, who has repeatedly been targeted by sectors of the Spanish press as well as groups of protestors who regularly gather outside of his home, added that he had become a “scapegoat” that mobilized the “darkest feelings,” ones that are “opposed to democracy.” He said that he was opting to take a step back conscious that he is not helping the party to “consolidate its institutional heft.”
He described the victory of Popular Party candidate Isabel Díaz Ayuso as a win for the “Trumpian right wing” and called the outcome a “tragedy for healthcare, education and public services.” He continued saying that he predicted that these results “would exacerbate the territorial problems in Spain. Madrid has never been so different,” he said, in reference to the historical drive for independence in regions such as Catalonia. He also claimed that the “institutional disloyalty of the Madrid region toward the government of Spain and other institutions is going to intensify.” He was referring to the tug of war between the Ayuso-led government and the central administration during the coronavirus crisis. The premier opted for a laxer approach to restrictions and closures of bars and restaurants, which has not served to keep the pandemic under control in the region but did eventually win her support at the ballot boxes.
“We have failed,” said Iglesias, in reference to the performance of the three leftist parties at the elections: the PSOE, Unidas Podemos and Más Madrid. Ayuso managed to secure more seats than all three parties combined. “We have been far from securing a sufficient majority to build a decent government,” he continued, although he did congratulate the Más Madrid candidate, Mónica García, who managed to secure more votes than the PSOE.
I’m incredibly proud to have led a political project that changed the history of our country, which ended the two-party systemPablo Iglesias, Unidas Podemos founder
Unidas Podemos recently lost support at regional elections in both Galicia and the Basque Country, but managed to maintain the same level of support at a similar poll in Catalonia. In March, Iglesias took the surprise decision to step down as deputy prime minister, a role that he had occupied for a little over a year. He announced at the time that he was running as a candidate in Madrid to “stop fascism” and to prevent the far-right – i.e. Vox – from entering a government in Spain for the first time. Polling data prior to his announcement suggested that the party was set to fail to secure the 5% of the vote it needed to obtain representation in the regional parliament, but his presence at the head of the electoral list served to boost support for the group.
In the end, the party managed to slightly increase the results it secured at the 2019 polls, where it picked up seven seats and 5.6% of the vote, but it was still a far cry from the 27 deputies secured in 2015. Despite the effect of having Iglesias as candidate, Unidas Podemos only managed to secure half the seats of rival party Más Madrid on Tuesday. The leftist group, which was created by Podemos co-founder Íñigo Errejón, managed a similar triumph at the 2019 polls, splitting the vote and relegating Unidas Podemos to last place. Más Madrid achieved its good result yesterday despite fielding a practically unknown candidate, Mónica García, running a successful campaign and managing to overshadow Iglesias, who offered Más Madrid a joint candidacy several weeks ago, an option that was turned down by the group.
Podemos as a party was born from the 2011 citizen movement known as 15-M, a series of protests in response to austerity policies in place at the time and political corruption. The emergence of the group in 2014, led by Iglesias, who back then was a university professor and television host, shook up the traditional two-party system in Spain. In 2019, Podemos joined forces with the United Left (IU) and Equo, to create Unidas Podemos ahead of a general election that year.
Speaking last night, Iglesias pointed to the achievements of his party over its seven years of history. “I’m incredibly proud to have led a political project that changed the history of our country, which ended the two-party system,” he said, adding that “when one is no longer useful, one must know when to retire.” The former deputy prime minister ended his statement on Tuesday night reciting several verses from singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez. “I don’t know what destiny is. On the journey, I was what I was.” He concluded with: “Goodbye for the last time,” to applause from the crowd and hugs from his fellow party members.
English version by Simon Hunter.