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Here's what you need to know about Podemos and that luxury villa

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Here's what you need to know about Podemos and that luxury villa
Iglesias and Montero are expecting twins in the autumn. Photo: AFP
13:19 CEST+02:00
Accusations of hypocrisy have rained down on the pair heading Spain's far-left Podemos party for buying a 600,000-euro luxury home with a swimming pool after previously condemning such extravagance.

The purchase caused unease among the rank-and-file of the party which was formed in 2014 to represent "the people" against "la casta" -- its term for Spain's political and business elites.

And there are fears it could cost the party at the ballot box.   

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In response, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and his partner Irene Montero, the party's parliamentary spokeswoman, have called a grassroots vote over their leadership.

The party's nearly 500,000 members have until Sunday to vote on whether the couple should stay on, with the results due out on Monday.   

Iglesias said Wednesday that a low turnout "would be an absolute failure and force us to resign".

"I would like it if there were more than 120,000 participants in the vote, that would be spectacular," he told news radio Cadena Ser.   

The couple have confirmed taking out a 30-year, 540,000-euro ($635,000) mortgage for the property in Galapagar near Madrid after the press revealed the purchase earlier this month.


 An image of the property from the estate agent's brochure revealing that it has a private swimming pool in landscaped gardens

'Must we slum it?'

They justified the purchase by saying they wanted to have "a bit of intimacy" to raise the twins they are expecting after being hounded by the paparazzi.

"We understand that many Spanish families, even with two salaries, can't afford a mortgage like this. That's why we think it's so important to defend dignified salaries for everyone," the couple said on Facebook last week.   

They received the support of far-left European leaders such as Greece's former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and France's Jean-Luc Melenchon. 

 Varoufakis, who was criticised himself after posing dining in style on the roof terrace of his Athens apartment for photos in the glossy French magazine Paris Match, told AFP it was "quaint if not ridiculous" to think that those who fight against inequality "must live in slums".

Damages credibility

But Iglesias' past statements against politicians who "live in villas" and "do not know how much a coffee costs" have come back to haunt him.   

Critics recall that in 2012 he criticised conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's then economy minister Luis de Guindos for buying a luxury home.   

"Would you hand over the nation's economic policy to someone who spends 600,000 euros on a luxury penthouse?" Iglesias wrote.   

The couple say their purchase is different because they bought their house to live in, not to "speculate" on, like de Guindos.   

Political scientist Cristina Monge, an expert on the "Indignados" movement against economic inequality that took crisis-hit Spain by storm in 2011, giving rise to Podemos, said the affair would "mortgage" the party "in terms of credibility and loss of support".

"Podemos tells its voters: 'We are going to represent you. We are like you, we are from workers' neighbourhoods, we wear jeans, we ride the metro'," she told AFP.

'Hurts electoral potential'

The furore risks tainting the party's image a year before municipal, regional and European parliament elections.   

The couple have also come under fire for calling the leadership vote.   

"It bothers me," said Daniel Ripa, the party's secretary general in the northern region of Asturias, while Lorena Ruiz-Huerta, one of its Madrid leaders, said calling the vote was "a mistake".

Podemos has become one of Spain's four main political parties after winning around a fifth of the vote in the 2016 general election.   

In opinion polls, it now matches and sometimes overtakes Spain's traditional leftwing party, the Socialists (PSOE).   

The scandal "mainly hurts Pablo Iglesias' image and thus it hurts the electoral potential of the party," said Antonio Barroso, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

But Podemos appears to have little other alternative than Iglesias and Montero.

"If you vote no, you will plunge the party into an enormous crisis a year from elections," Monge said.

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