Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias quits politics after Madrid regional elections drubbing

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said Tuesday he was resigning from politics after a dire showing by his hard-left party in Madrid’s regional election which was resoundingly won by the right.

Podemos' Pablo Iglesias quits politics after Madrid regional elections drubbing
Photos: Javier Soriano/Dani Pozo/AFP

“We have failed, we have been very far from putting together a sufficient majority,” he said in a speech shortly after the result showed a solid victory for the right-wing Popular Party, handing a stinging defeat to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists and Podemos.

When he burst onto the political scene as Spain wrestled with the fallout of the global economic crisis, pony-tailed former professor Pablo Iglesias rallied widespread support with his defiant cry of “Yes, we can.”

But seven years on, Iglesias has abruptly announced his departure from politics after his hard-left Podemos party and the Socialists, who serve together in government, suffered a stinging defeat at the hands of the right in Madrid’s regional elections.

“We have failed, we have been very far from putting together a sufficient majority,” he said after a bitterly-fought campaign for the leadership of Spain’s richest region.

It has been just seven weeks since Iglesias announced his resignation as deputy prime minister to run as his party’s candidate in Madrid in a surprising and risky gamble that he ultimately lost.

“When you are no longer useful, you need to know when to withdraw,” he admitted.

It has been a rollercoaster year-and-a-half for Iglesias since the general election, which ultimately brought his party to power as the junior partner in a Socialist-led coalition in which he was named to a top position.

It was a huge step for a party which had its beginnings in the anti-austerity “Indignados” protest movement that occupied public squares across Spain in 2011.

Founded in January 2014, the party was the brainchild of Iglesias and colleagues from Madrid’s Complutense University who managed to channel the widespread anger over austerity and inequality into a potent political force.

In its first legislative elections in December 2015, the party came third, and did the same again in June 2016, upending the traditional hegemony of the right-wing Popular Party and the Socialists.

In January 2020, Podemos joined the Socialists in forming Spain’s first coalition government since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975.

And the long-haired Iglesias, who favours open-necked shirts at official events and often wears his mane in a bun, was sworn in as a deputy prime minister.

But the marriage of convenience — coming just before the pandemic — has not been an easy one, with the coalition blighted by very public disagreements on everything from migrants to ending the monarchy.

From protester to politician

Bearded and with a solemn gaze that is regularly broken by a winning smile, Iglesias was raised in the working-class Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas.

His mother was a labour lawyer and his father a work inspector who was jailed during Franco’s dictatorship.

Immersed in politics from an early age, Iglesias was active in the Communist youth and anti-globalisation movements before the Indignados protest movement erupted in Spain in 2011 at the height of the economic crisis.

A brilliant orator and strategist, he has often railed on Twitter and in numerous television interviews against Spain’s elite “caste” of mainstream politicians and bankers.

But his dominance over Podemos has not always sat well with other founders of the party, especially in terms of strategy, prompting high-level resignations that have weakened the formation.

In 2018, Iglesias — who in the past has boasted about buying his clothes at a low-cost supermarket — put his leadership of Podemos to a grassroots vote following an outcry over his purchase of a luxury home with a swimming pool and guest house in the mountains near Madrid.

Chavez adviser

Iglesias once served as an advisor to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and has been accused of using money from Caracas to fund his political ventures in Spain.

His vehement speeches have divided opinion, with some business leaders and the rightwing press seeing him as a dangerous populist.

But he also comes across as both funny and accessible, playing his guitar live on television, giving a presenter a ride on his red scooter or quoting from “The Simpsons”.

A huge fan of “Game of Thrones”, Iglesias defied protocol when he met Spain’s King Felipe VI for the first time, handing the monarch a box set of the Emmy award-winning series.

With his partner, Equality Minister Irene Montero, he has three young children.

In his final speech, Iglesias said he was stepping down so as not to stand in the way of his party’s progress, saying his Podemos colleague and Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, who replaced him as deputy prime minister, could one day be premier.

“I will continue to be committed to my country, but I am not going to block the change in leadership that has to take place within our political movement,” he said.

Member comments

  1. I have to say that this article is not accurate and it is given a partial vision about the insights of Spain and its recent and far away events.
    As an example, it would be good to mention that the father of Pablo Iglesias was a member of a Terrorist group called FRAP, and he was detained for 5 days because of this in 1973. I think to avoid this kind of information is a way of manipulation.
    Also, this article is given the impression that Pablo Iglesias is coming from the working-class and also this is false. He is part of the high-middle class, His mother was a lawyer from the UGT Union with a very good salary and his father was Chief Working inspector for the government, also with a very good salary, well above the Spanish average. I think this article doesn´t differentiate between the Image strategy from Pablo Iglesias a political leader and the reality.
    I would rather see better articles with more accurate information in The Local.

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Spain’s PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

With the next general election slated for December 2023, recent polling shows Spain's Conservatives gaining ground on the Socialists. Spanish political correspondent Conor Faulkner looks at whether the PP will need far-right Vox to govern, as they now do at a regional level.

Spain's PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

Recent polling from Spain’s CIS (Centre for Sociological Research) shows the incumbent PSOE-led government with a slight, but shrinking, advantage over opposition parties.

On 30.3 percent, Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE would form the government if elections were held today, but that score is unimproved since April and, crucially, the centre-right party Popular Party is gaining, polling at 28.7 percent in May, with the difference between the two now only 1.6 percent.

In fact, PP have been on a steady rise since a turbulent start to 2022 in which former leader Pablo Casado was forced to resign after becoming entangled in intra-party infighting with PP’s regional President in Madrid, Isabel Ayuso.

Casado was replaced by Galician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, considered to be a more traditional centre-right candidate in the mould of Rajoy, who served as President of Galicia between 2009-2022.

PROFILE: Feijóo, steady hand on the tiller for Spain’s opposition party

Whereas Casado was often drawn into scandal and outflanked on cultural issues by far-right Vox, Feijóo is considered a more conventional conservative less prone to populism, and his short tenure as leader has put the PP back on the road to electoral respectability. 

PP were polling around 21 percent in February, amid the public infighting, but since then have steadily risen to the 28.7 percent that they would get if an election were held today, according to recent CIS numbers.

Yet, while many view Feijóo as more centrist than his predecessor, at the regional level far-right Vox have entered into a regional government coalition with PP in Castilla y León.

With important regional elections looming in Andalusia in June, and a general election further down the line in December 2023, it remains unclear if PP would be forced to rely on Vox to overcome PSOE’s thin polling advantage and form a national government.

Crucially, PP’s recent rise has not chipped away at Vox’s polling numbers. According to the CIS, Vox’s polling numbers grew from 14.8 percent in April to 16.6 percent in May, and with centrist Cuidadanos all but electorally wiped out, hovering around 2 or 3 percent all year, and the far-left, junior coalition partner Podemos falling further in the polls, to below 10 percent, the CIS estimate a higher probability of a right-wing PP-Vox (45 percent) than they do a PSOE-Podemos (39.9 percent) government.

With Vox now firmly established as Spain’s third political party and already on the offensive in Castilla y Leon’s regional government – including its Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment in the assembly recently declaring war against “the virus of communism” – all eyes will be on the upcoming Andalusian regional elections to see if PP is again forced to rely on Vox members to form a government.

Vox’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, climate-sceptic populist policy programme is controversial, and the prospect of them as junior coalition partner in a national government would be an abrupt change from a government that wants to introduce menstrual leave and provide financial aid to renters.

Their entry into government at the regional level in Castilla y León was the first time they have officially entered into an executive, at any level, although PP have relied on Vox votes in regional assemblies in both Murcia and Andalusia in the past.

READ ALSO: Spanish cabinet approves paid ‘menstrual leave’

Whereas under Casado’s leadership PP were often forced rightward on cultural issues in an effort to stop Vox shaving away at their core electoral base, under Feijóo the future is less clear. Although Feijóo is considered more centrist than his predecessor, Vox’s steady rise since its emergence into Spanish politics since 2014 worries many on the left and centre, particularly as it has now officially entered into government at the regional level.

Yet, Feijóo seems keen to draw some distinction between the two parties. “The leaders of Vox cannot prove experience in management [of the country] because they do not have it, [and] it seems that they do not like the European Union… the State of Autonomies does not satisfy them either,” he said this week, but did recognise their electoral gains as “obvious.”

“The difference between Vox and the PP,” he continued, “is that a good part of Vox leaders came from the PP and left the common home.”

“We are very interested in those votes that those leaders have because they were votes that the PP had. And, as you will understand, we are here to win,” he added.

What exactly that means for the future political makeup of La Moncloa – whether Feijóo intends to win back those votes for PP or keep them in the ‘common home’ and work with Vox in coalition – remains unclear.

With the Sánchez-led coalition having had almost its entire term swallowed up by the global pandemic, then war in Europe, and now a cost of living and inflation crisis, it seems likely the left could lose the next general election and the Spanish right will return to power.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether that means a PP government or a PP-Vox coalition and the prospect of the far-right in government. All eyes will be on Andalusia in June to see how Feijóo pivots his party as it looks ahead to general elections next year. 

READ ALSO: What a Vox government could mean for foreigners in Spain