Politics For Members

What's going on with the Spanish left?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
What's going on with the Spanish left?
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C), Spain's Minister for Work and Social Economy Yolanda Diaz Perez (C,L) and delegation's members attend the plenary meeting at Los Jameos del Agua, near Arrieta, on March 15, 2023. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN/AFP

Spain's deputy PM launched her bid to become Spain's first female Prime Minister last weekend, as well as a new party that aims to unite the far-left, but has also highlighted its divisions. The Local asks, what's going on with the Spanish left?


In Madrid on Sunday April 2nd, Spain's deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour, Yolanda Díaz, launched a new political party, Sumar, as well as her bid to be the first female Prime Minister in Spanish history.

Sumar is a left-wing platform designed to unify far-left parties, and encompasses several different leftist groups including Izquierda Unida, Más País, Más Madrid, Els Comuns, Compromís, and Alianza Verde.

READ ALSO: Leader of Spain's far-left launches election bid

At the launch, Díaz told a crowd of 5,000: “I want to be Spain’s first female prime minister because women’s time has come, and women want to be the ones who make history".  

The event was attended not only by the smaller regional parties that come under the broader Sumar banner, but big names from across the Spanish left, including former Podemos bigwig and current Más País leader, Íñigo Errejón; Minister for Consumer Affairs Alberto Garzón (a Communist Party member and the national coordinator of Izquierda Unida); as well as Joan Subirats (Catalunya en Comú) and the mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó.


For outside observers, particularly for those from more traditional first-past-the-post, two-party systems like the UK and US, the plethora of different political parties and leaders and alliances in Spanish coalitions can be a little confusing.

Spanish Minister of Labour Yolanda Díaz delivers a speech during a rally on April 2nd, 2023, in Madrid, to announce her candidacy for the December 2023 general elections. Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP

Unifying them all under one banner is one of Sumar (and Díaz's) main aims, but although it was well attended by the Spanish left last week, Sumar's launch has also highlighted divisions within it that will need to be resolved before Spain's general election at the end of the year.

Representatives from Podemos, the far-left junior coalition partner currently in government with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Socialist (PSOE) party, were notable in their absence - officially, at least.

But who is Yolanda Díaz, what does Sumar mean for Spanish politics, and what is going on with the Spanish left?

Yolanda Díaz

Yolanda Díaz was born in Ferrol, a small town in the northwestern region of Galicia, and comes from left-wing stock. Her father was a well-known trade unionist and her uncle a Communist Party member who served in the Galician parliament. Díaz worked as a labour lawyer for many years, served as a local councillor and deputy Mayor, and is herself a near lifelong Communist Party member. 

Spanish opinion polling data has consistently shown Díaz to be Spain's most popular politician, and her approachability has even been complimented by the business community. She entered Pedro Sánchez's government in January 2020.

On a legislative level, Díaz has shown herself to be an effective politician with the ability to get on with governing while other factions on the left have become embroiled in culture war scandals, notably Irene Montero's fraught 'Solo sí es sí' legislation and controversy over trans legislation. 


Díaz's Ministry of Labour was responsible for a wide-ranging set of reforms that boosted the minimum wage and attacked the culture of short-term and temporary work contracts and also ran Spain's furlough scheme during the pandemic.


READ ALSO: Spain's labour market buoyed by sharp drop in temporary contracts

She is respected as a very capable minister, someone who, as a lifelong communist, is undoubtedly on Spain's far-left, but tends to avoid the confrontational style of politics so prevalent in Spain, as well as the combative nature of her Podemos colleagues. Instead, she has earned a reputation as someone who gets things done: the type of politician who focuses on solutions not slogans.

What is Sumar?

As you might imagine, Sumar's policy platform is certainly on the left.

Díaz has, among other things, pledged to end tax privileges, introduce new environmental legislation, provide guarantees on housing standards, a commitment to reduce the working day without affecting Spaniard's salaries ("we want to work less to live better," in her own words), and overhaul how Spain's regions are funded to prevent "unfair competition between" them.

All things broadly popular across the Spanish left, you would think.

Splits on the left

Not quite. The big absence from Díaz's launch was Podemos, and they are still yet to strike a formal agreement with Sumar, refusing to attend because of a disagreement of how candidate lists should be organised for upcoming regional elections in May. Though the issue of open or closed electoral primaries (how a party chooses its candidates) is important, in political reality they are a proxy for which party and, crucially, which personalities, will lead the Spanish left moving forward.


Of the big political players in Podemos, it is actually a man no longer in government (or politics) who wields the most power. Though Ione Belarra is officially the party leader, the shadow of Pablo Iglesias, former Deputy Prime Minister and former leader of Podemos, and onetime ally of Díaz, looms large over the Spanish left, even as he embarks on a newfound media career.

Díaz and Iglesias once had a good relationship, but it began to deteriorate when Díaz first started forming Sumar in the summer of 2022. In fact, when Iglesias left politics altogether in May 2021 he recommended to Pedro Sánchez that Díaz replace him as deputy prime minister - despite not being a Podemos member. 

READ ALSO: Podemos' Pablo Iglesias quits politics after Madrid regional elections drubbing

This is compounded by the fact that Iglesias is married to Irene Montero, the divisive Equalities Minister that has drawn the ire of the Spanish right and conservative press, and many (both in and out of the party) may be pushed towards Sumar, due to what many perceive as the iron grip with which the power couple still rule the party.

Montero has called for Podemos to play a leading role in any leftist movement, suggesting that "a coalition agreement between Podemos and Sumar" is possible but hinting that Podemos formally coming under the Sumar banner is unlikely.

Díaz prefers a wider left-wing platform that includes all parties on an equal footing than any kind of coalition between Sumar and Podemos. She has even hinted that Sumar could (and would) move forward without Podemos.

Iglesias, on the other hand, has claimed such a move would be “an electoral and political tragedy". 

Yet while Díaz's personal approval ratings outrank other politicians in Spain, Podemos has been slipping in the polls for some time, now firmly relegated from its stronghold as Spain's third party to battling with far-right party Vox at around 10 percent in the polls


What does this mean for the general election?

So, what does this all mean for the upcoming election? 2023 is set to be a bumper year in Spanish politics, with regional elections slated for May and a general election before the end of the year - likely in November or December.

READ ALSO: GUIDE: Elections in Spain in 2023

It is important to understand that though Díaz did, technically speaking, launch her candidacy to be Prime Minister, it is practically impossible that she will become Spain's first female Prime Minister. Rather, she is much more likely to have a key role as a potential kingmaker in forming a governing coalition.

The Spanish right will be hoping that the infighting between Sumar and Podemos continues all year, and both the centre-right People's Party (PP) and Vox will hope to hoover up votes from the wreckage. When asked about Sumar's launch, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo predicted that Sumar will soon "have to change the name because they have nothing to offer and people will soon realise they’re the same as ever". 

For the last couple of years in Spain, it has generally been assumed that Pedro Sánchez would be remembered as the pandemic President and be consigned to one term in office, giving La Moncloa to Feijóo and the PP, possibly with the support of Vox in some sort of coalition, whether formally or not. PSOE has trailed in the polls, though not by an insurmountable amount, for large swathes of the last 18 months.


Yet in recent weeks, with Spain's inflation dropping quicker than most countries and Pedro Sánchez playing a key role in geopolitics throughout the Ukraine war, even visiting China last week, PSOE has regained ground in the polls, even being tipped to win an election by one polling company.

Sources close to Sánchez have said a PSOE return to La Moncloa depends on Sumar being the all-important 'third party' when the election comes, and aren't concerned that it could take votes from PSOE. The general election, according to the sources, will be "two leagues, two divisions": one fought between PSOE and PP, and another between Sumar (with or without Podemos) and Vox. The key question is whether Podemos and Sumar will split the left vote, leaving space for Vox to become the third party and propelling PP into government.

Within the Spanish system, Sànchez's PSOE will have to rely on a junior coalition partner from its left in order to govern. Who it will be: Podemos, Sumar, an agreement between the two, or Podemos under the Sumar banner, depends on how unifying Díaz can be and how compromising the big personalities within Podemos are willing to be.

In his only public comment since Sumar's launch, Sánchez described the ongoing recomposition of parties to the left of PSOE as an attempt to "fit [the] many pieces of the puzzle". 

His only wish, he said, "is that all the pieces fit". 


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