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PROFILE: Who is Spain's hard-left election candidate Yolanda Díaz?

AFP
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PROFILE: Who is Spain's hard-left election candidate Yolanda Díaz?
Radical-left candidate for new alliance Sumar Yolanda Diaz. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

"Less noise and more talking" is the rallying cry of Spain's popular Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, who's hoping her straight-talking message of unity will reinvigorate Spain's radical left in Sunday's election.

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Gone - at least in theory - are the divisions that plagued Spain's left-wing coalition government in recent months, with Podemos throwing its support behind Díaz's Sumar ("Unite") platform after suffering a major defeat in the May 28th local and regional elections.

"The most important thing is that we join hands, we talk and we build bridges to show Spain what politics is all about," said the 52-year-old lawyer, who is a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), as she laid out her strategy earlier this year.

"It's not about making noise or making a scene but about improving people's lives," said Díaz, who is credited with raising Spain's minimum wage.

Number three in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's government, Díaz created Sumar a year ago and has managed to attract the support of 15 parties to stand as the sole candidate for the radical left in Sunday's vote.

It was a key victory for the Galician-born politician who in three years has gone from being a virtual unknown to Spain's most trusted party leader in the polls -- a feat she accepted with a cool head, insisting she's not looking to win any "medals".

The party is tied for third place in the polls with far-right party Vox.

Want to find out the latest on Spain's general election? Check out The Local Spain's 2023 election page here

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Activist mum

Born in May 1971 in Fene near Ferrol, a working-class town in northwest Spain which was the birthplace of former dictator Francisco Franco, the labour law specialist made a name for herself over a decade ago for taking part in political meetings with her baby in her arms.

But it was her nomination as labour minister in 2020 which brought her into the spotlight.

And 18 months later, Podemos' then leader Pablo Iglesias handed her the reins of the radical left after he stepped down from politics following an electoral setback.

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"Yolanda Díaz could be the next prime minister of Spain," Iglesias said at the time when the pair were very close.

The daughter of a leading trade union leader, she has established herself firmly within Spain's political landscape thanks to her affable nature and her ability to compromise, which has been hailed by both unions and employers groups.

Díaz negotiated a crucial furlough agreement during the Covid crisis, secured a significant increase to the minimum wage and pushed through a key labour reform.

Diaz shakes hands with supporters at the end of a campaign meeting in Madrid on July 16th 2023. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)
 

'Dressed in Dior'

She is hoping to be able to capitalise on such achievements by highlighting her image as a pragmatist.

Unlike Podemos, whose leaders were quick to attack their Socialist coalition partners, she has been careful to avoid confrontation with Sánchez, who is hoping to be re-elected and would likely seek to partner with Sumar.

Díaz, who frequently dresses in red, likes to recall the time Spain's veteran Communist leader, Santiago Carrillo, kissed her hand when she was four years old.

"She's like (France's hard-left leader Jean-Luc) Melenchon, only dressed in Christian Dior!" grumbled Socialist veteran Alfonso Guerra, who has been critical of Sanchez's alliances with the radical left.

It is a reproach that has been echoed in business circles where Sumar's "universal inheritance" plan, which involves giving young people €20,000 ($22,500) to spend on study or training, has provoked a backlash because of its estimated €10-billion price tag.

But Díaz has fought back, insisting it was a crucial way to ensure "equal opportunities" for all.

She is also facing opposition from parts of Podemos after Sumar said it would not accept the presence of Equality Minister Irene Montero on its list.

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