As the furore over Syriza’s election in Greece begins to settle, and the Greek people prepare themselves for the opportunity to rebuild their society, eyes are turning West towards Spain.
In little less than a year, Spain will go to the polls. Barring a miracle, one of three parties will find itself in power; Partido Popular, those currently in government, PSOE, the other half of the two-party monopoly familiar to voters in many European democracies, or Podemos, the new kid on the block that just might shake, kick and drag Spain into a new political and cultural paradigm.
Podemos are making a lot of people, Spaniards and otherwise, feel very excited. Of course, as is the inevitability of politics to divide people into clans and split opinion, they are also being given a decidedly unfriendly welcome by others. One of the reasons why they are generating such clamour is that they have only been around for a matter of months. Formed in early 2014, emerging from the ashes of the anti-austerity, anti-corruption protests that erupted in Madrid a couple of summers earlier, they share this relative youth with Syriza, who were established by like-minded political activists in Athens in 2004.
Since then, Podemos have taken politics in Spain by storm. A few months after their unveiling, they performed remarkably well at the European elections in May, and have gone from strength to strength, confounding the critics who wrote them off as a flash in the pan. Towards the end of last year, they came first in a poll of voter intentions, dramatically beating the two behemoths who have dominated the Spanish political landscape since the transition to democracy. They are now the second biggest party in Spain in terms of members, ahead of PSOE, who are suffering a meltdown echoing that of Ed Miliband’s Labour in Britain.
If the truly remarkable does not come to pass in December 2015, that of a two year old party winning a general election in a major European democracy, then there are some incredibly encouraging signs to take away from the rise of Podemos. Signs that could, and should, be monitored by all European nations. This is a story of an organisation that has harnessed grassroots politics and social media to galvanise a populace bitter and angry at an unforgivably corrupt elite. There is a new wave of energy passing through Spain, largely thanks to Podemos. It is no coincidence that the fact that its members were those fighting and demonstrating against the government in 2012 is a large part of why they have been so successful. They have demonstrated that it is possible to go from nothing and to shake the foundations of politics – to break through and achieve an opportunity for real change. The political elite (and by proxy, politics itself) is often seen as indecipherable, invisible and omnipotent, especially in a country where the disease of corruption is so endemic that it seeps not only from the wounds of the government and the (previous) opposition party, but also from those of the Royals. The trial involving the King’s own sister and her husband for tax fraud is ongoing, and shows no signs of painting the Royal Family in glory. As a new force like Podemos have begun to make real achievements, the Spanish people and those further afield have been drawn to them.
At the very least, the parliamentary election in December may well see the highest voter turnout in years, particularly among young people, which, largely thanks to Podemos, would be a hugely commendable achievement.