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Sinn Féin's Spanish allies have had to tone it down

Podemos is set to face the ballot box at the end of this week as part of the Spanish regional elections.

IN JANUARY OF this year the election of Syriza in Greece brought with it the promise of a Europe-wide movement of left wing parties.

Speaking after the election, the now Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, said that the election of his party in Greece would be followed by Podemos and the United Left in Spain this year, and Sinn Féin in Ireland following that.

However, since then, Syriza have struggled to keep up with Greece’s debt repayments, in turn having to revert on a number of their pre-election promises.

And this week, Podemos, the Spanish component of this pan-European socialist trio, are set to go to the ballot box in the country’s regional elections.

The party is a striking alternative on the Spanish political landscape, which is currently more or less a two-party system, dominated since the 1990s by the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and the People’s Party (PP).

The cohort of left-wing intellectuals and anti-austerity activists, led by pony-tail sporting former university lecturer Pablo Iglesias, stand in stark contrast to their traditional political opponents.

Spain Political Upstarts Secretary General of Podemos Pablo Iglesias Source: Associated Press

At last year’s European elections the party took 8% of the popular vote and five seats in the European parliament – not a bad result considering they had been set up earlier the same year.

Following this, the party won 15 seats in the Andalusia regional parliament in March.

The party’s rise to prominence has come at an opportune time, with Spain undergoing regional, municipal and general elections all in the one year.

So what were the party’s policies?

Born out of a number of other left-wing groupings and movements, its manifesto, entitled ‘Mover ficha’, loosely translates as ‘to move the pieces’, outlined some fairly extreme left-wing policies.

It proposed a moratorium on a section of the constitution that states that “loans to meet payment on the interest and capital of the State’s public debt shall always be deemed to be included in the budget expenditure”.

Instead it proposed a citizen debt audit to determine which loans were legitimate.

Spain Podemos A woman at a Podemos rally in Madrid in January Source: Andres Kudacki/AP/Press Association Images

The manifesto also laid out plans to nationalise the banks and energy companies, vastly reduce controls on migration and strongly opposed military action, with a focus on Spain exiting NATO.

A big part of the party’s identity had also come from the establishment of working groups around the country which have allowed it to build a groundswell of support at a grass-roots level – keeping clear means of communication open between the party’s supporters and leadership.

So what’s going wrong for them now?

In recent months Podemos has had to face up to political realities.

Their polling numbers have stagnated and one of their co-founders, Juan Carlos Monedero, last month quit the party citing his frustration with its movement towards the centre. 

This movement has come in the form of reversion on its policies to stop home evictions and to guarantee minimum incomes, something that it is felt might be an effort to pick up more of the middle-class and traditional socialist vote.

Spain Podemos A Podemos rally arriving in Madrid's Plaza del Sol in January of this year Source: Andres Kudacki/AP/Press Association Images

Podemos has also had to face the rise of the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party. The group, established in 2006 and initially operating mostly within Catalonia, has seen its support base grow and it is expecting a substantial return in the upcoming regional elections.

What’s the outlook for them going forward? 

While the party has had to adjust its outlook to meet political realities, it could be argued this is not altogether a bad thing.

In a remarkably short space of time, Podemos has gone from a mass street movement to a serious contender in the political system.

An article recently published in Spain’s largest selling newspaper, El País, outlined “La versión Podemos 3.0″, a version of the party willing to compromise on some of its more radical policies.

While Podemos may not sweep the board this year the way that some had predicted them to do, their political story seems far from over.

At the end of this week, the share of Spain’s some 68,000 and 8,000 mayoral position will be decided, giving a clearer idea of the future for the party.

Read: Syriza has done another big U-turn on its election promises

Also: Greece has found enough cash for the IMF – by not paying its people

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