Spanish elections: Podemos co-founder forms new party (to rival Podemos)

The former number two of Spain's Podemos said Wednesday he would contest November's elections, running against his former close friend Pablo Iglesias who heads the far-left party.

Spanish elections: Podemos co-founder forms new party (to rival Podemos)
Errejon and Iglesias when Podemos first entered Spain's Parliament in 2016. Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP

The move looks set to further fragment the divided left-wing parties just six weeks ahead of the November 10th vote, which will be the fourth general election in as many years.

Voters were recalled to the ballot box after Socialist Prime Minister Pablo Sanchez failed to secure support to be confirmed as premier despite months of negotiations, primarily with Podemos.

Inigo Errejon, 35, said he would run at the head of a new list called Mas Pais — “More for the country” — capping weeks of speculation about whether he would throw his hat into the ring.

At a meeting in Madrid, the party confirmed it would contest the elections with Errejon heading a list made up of mostly women.   

The move is likely to cement the political and personal split between Iglesias and Errejon who had been part of Spain's anti-austerity “Indignados” movement and who jointly founded Podemos in January 2014.

In a 30-minute address, Errojon said the only thing dragging the country back to the ballot box was “the irresponsibility of the political leaders” who had failed to reach an agreement, in a swipe at the Socialists and Podemos.

“I understand the almost unanimous anger… with the current leaders and the political impasse… which runs the risk of translating into abstention,” he said.

“Spain needs to break the impasse” and for that, it was crucial to ensure that no-one stayed at home “disillusioned, exhausted, drained”.   

“If we want the result to be different, we have to vote in a different way to ensure there is a progressive government,” he said, presenting Mas Pais as “part of the solution”.

Best friends no more

For years, Iglesias and Errejon — who both hold a doctorate in political science — were largely inseparable after becoming friends while studying at Madrid's Complutense University.

After founding Podemos, they worked closely together with Errejon serving as Iglesias' deputy until 2017 when they became embroiled in a power struggle that sparked a deep rift within the party.

The dispute was only resolved when Iglesias won a clear mandate to continue as leader.

“Inigo and I were very good friends, we're not any more,” Iglesias said on Tuesday.   

As they grew further apart, matters came to a head earlier this year when Errejon co-launched a new leftist platform called Mas Madrid, which ran against Podemos in regional elections in May, weakening support for his former party.   

Through Mas Pais, Errejon is likely to try and fill the political space between the radical policies of Podemos and the more moderate stance of Sanchez's Socialists.

Analysts have warned that Errejon's entry into the election race could be damaging not only for Iglesias but for the left as a whole.   

“By eroding support for Podemos and splintering the left vote, this could significantly undermine the left's performance in terms of the seat distribution, and potentially even deprive it of a majority,” Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi warned last week.

EXPLAINER: Why Spain is heading for yet another general election

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EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions, with fears that unity over the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and the League’s Matteo Salvini are slated to be the big winners in Sunday’s general election on a firmly “Italians First” agenda, in which officials in Brussels largely play the role
of the bogeyman.

The biggest worries concern the economy.

Italy’s massive debt is seen as a threat to European stability if Rome turns its back on the sound financing championed by outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, a darling of the EU political establishment.

A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.

Giorgia Meloni delivers speech at party rally

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (Rear C on stage) delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

“This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,” said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.

“Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government and we have instruments at our disposal,” he added.

That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had “tools” to deal with errant member states.

“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.

Anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini condemned the EU chief’s comments on Friday, calling them “squalid threats”.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

‘Benefit of the doubt’

Italy has huge amounts of EU money on the line. It is awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.

In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.

“To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt,” said an EU official, who works closely with Italy on economic issues.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

(From L) Leader of Italian far-right Lega (League) party Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, and Italian centre-right lawmaker Maurizio Lupi on stage on September 22, 2022 during a joint rally of Italy’s coalition of far-right and right-wing parties. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

However, when it comes to Russia, many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions. But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.

Whether the war or soaring inflation, “what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity”, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.

The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.

“One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change their minds,” she told French radio.

“We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,” she added