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Spain’s Labour Minister launches new political movement

Spain's popular Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz Friday launched a new leftist political movement ahead of general elections expected in late 2023, vowing a new way of doing politics.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor and Social Economy Yolanda Diaz
Spain's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor and Social Economy Yolanda Diaz arrives for the presentation of the "Sumar" consultation platform, at the Matadero cultural centre in Madrid on July 8, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Diaz said she would go on a nationwide listening tour to gather ideas about what people want for the country, and then decide whether the movement would take part in the next polls with her at the helm.

“In this citizens’ movement, I am just one more piece. You are the protagonists and if you want I will step up,” she told a crowd of around 5,000 people gathered at a Madrid cultural centre.

Diaz said the new movement called “Sumar”, which means “to add” in Spanish, would seek “a new social contract” and work to end to the politics of “confrontation”.

Politics should be about “extending a hand, and then being able to reach agreements that change people’s lives,” she added.

Diaz currently represents the far-left Podemos party, the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority coalition government.

Polls consistently indicate she is Spain’s most popular politician.

As labour minister, she was responsible for a recent labour reform which is credited with a sharp fall in the number of temporary job contracts.

She also oversaw a generous job furlough scheme at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which ensured people had an income even when large parts of the economy were closed due to lockdowns.

The launch of the new political movement comes as both the Socialists and Podemos have slumped in the polls, with Spain battered by high inflation as is the case across Europe.

The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) have overtaken the Socialists as Spain’s most popular party, according to a poll published Monday in daily newspaper El Pais.

The PP, which in April picked a moderate new leader, had 27.4 percent support, ahead of the Socialist at 26.3 percent.

Podemos was in fourth place, behind far-right party Vox.

The PP last month secured a landslide win in a regional election in Andalusia, winning an absolute majority of seats in the former Socialist stronghold.

 It will now govern the southern region, Spain’s most populous, on its own for the first time.

READ ALSO: Who is the communist shaking up Spanish politics?

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POLITICS

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

Catalan separatists hold their annual march in Barcelona on Sunday, but won't be joined this year by their leader, whose support for dialogue with Madrid has divided the movement.

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

The annual “Diada” on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and has traditionally drawn vast crowds.

Under the slogan, “We’re back to win: independence!” organisers hope to mark the comeback for a movement still reeling from the failed 2017 independence bid and then the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our reliance on political parties is over, only the people and civil society can achieve independence,” said the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an influential association which, over the past decade, transformed this once-minor anniversary into a massive annual event.

READ MORE: Why does Catalonia have its own ‘embassies’ abroad? 

But the ANC, the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement, has been very critical of dialogue started between the Catalan government of Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist, and Madrid.

It said the “October 1 victory,” when separatists organised a 2017 independence referendum despite a ban by Madrid, and the pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament “must not be wasted in dialogue with the Spanish state and on internal squabbles”.

This year, Aragones has decided not to attend the march.

Last year, his presence drew derisive whistles from some of the 108,000 people who turned out to demonstrate at what was one of the smallest turnouts in a decade, police figures showed.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if my presence there was used against the government I run,” he told regional public television on Wednesday, referring to his separatist coalition which groups the left-wing ERC and hardline JxC.

Aragones belongs to ERC, which favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC wants to maintain a confrontational approach.

Other ERC government members won’t attend Sunday’s march, while JxC representatives will.

A movement in crisis

Gone are the years when vast crowds would paralyse the streets of Barcelona, when the Diada drew more than a million participants in the run-up to the 2017 independence bid. 

Five years on from that frenetic autumn, when the Catalan government made a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, the context is very different.

Those behind the bid were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, although they were later pardoned.

READ MORE: Spanish intelligence did spy on Catalan separatists with court approval: report

Others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatists sharply at odds over how to move forward.

ERC — a small player in Spain’s national parliament, but which has offered crucial support to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government — says it is fully committed to dialogue.

That hasn’t changed despite recent revelations that the Spanish intelligence service had spied on separatist politicians. But the hardliners are running out of patience, disappointed with politicians whom they see as reneging on their promises.

“We at the ANC don’t understand how the Catalan leader is happy to pose for photos with the leadership in Madrid but doesn’t want to do the same with hundreds of thousands of Catalans who want independence,” the group said.

Sunday’s march will be a delicate moment for a very weakened movement.

“The context has changed radically following the pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine,” said Ana Sofia Cardenal, a political scientist at Catalonia’s Open University, suggesting people have more immediate preoccupations.

“The mood among the people is different now, even among those who back Catalan independence,” she said. They want “the politicians to resolve the problems” that people are facing in daily life.

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