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Podemos tones down its proposals at founding assembly

New leftist party’s leader Pablo Iglesias says he will “step aside” if his ideas are voted down

Pablo Iglesias (center in white shirt) surrounded by other Podemos leaders at the party assembly this weekend. Ampliar foto
Pablo Iglesias (center in white shirt) surrounded by other Podemos leaders at the party assembly this weekend.

New Spanish political party Podemos has begun putting together its campaign program for the 2015 elections, in which its stated goal is to sweep the mainstream parties out of power.

In a weekend assembly held in Madrid, Podemos approved five resolutions on the economy, education, health, corruption and housing that could serve as the basis for its much-discussed platform of change.

After catching everyone by surprise with a strong showing at the European elections in May, when it secured 1.2 million votes and five seats in the EU Parliament just four months after it was created, Podemos has become a new left-wing force whose passionate rhetoric about bringing down the political and economic “caste” and empowering the people has struck a chord with many Spaniards angry at their leaders over a protracted economic crisis and a flood of corruption cases.

But the party – which has been repeatedly accused of populism and of defending the kind of ideas favored by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez – has begun to tone down some of its initial proposals in an apparent effort to appeal to a more center-left constituency.

On Saturday, party leader Pablo Iglesias said he wanted to occupy “the centrality of the [political] board” with the goal of winning at the polls.

Although there is still a year left before general elections – Iglesias has ruled out running in next May’s local elections to avoid burnout – he called upon society to do its part to effect change. He said there is a social majority “that wants the rich to pay taxes, that knows the only way to end corruption is to democratize the economy, and knows that the problem with this crisis is that we have been ruled by robbers.”

Building on that new, less radical image, Podemos on Sunday approved a resolution on the economy that no longer talks about defaulting on part of Spain’s public and private debt, as the party had advocated in its European election program.

Instead, party leaders are now talking about an orderly debt restructuring process to return to more sustainable debt levels.

“The goal is not to not pay the debt,” reads a document defended by party economist Bibiana Medialdea and reiterated by Iglesias in recent weeks. “We can try to promote an orderly debt restructuring process in Europe and especially in the peripheral countries [...] It’s not a matter of will, or even of social equity (although it is that, too); it’s primarily about economic efficiency.”

I am not an alpha male, I will submit to the orders of the majority”

Pablo Iglesias, Podemos leader

The other resolutions stressed measures to support public education and health, such as eliminating co-payment for prescription drugs and stopping hospital privatizations. The assembly also green-lighted proposals to safeguard homeowners against evictions and to include corruption as a crime in the penal code.

Following Podemos’ system of open voting, nearly 40,000 supporters approved the resolutions before they were backed by the party congress.

However, there is already a division of opinion as to how Podemos should approach its campaign run. While Iglesias wants a structure with a single leader and a small team of aides, two of the party’s European deputies, Pablo Echenique and Teresa Rodríguez, favor a larger citizen council that would have, among other things, three spokespeople.

Iglesias said that whoever loses out after 130,000 party supporters cast their votes would have to “step aside,” including himself if need be.

“I am not indispensable,” said Iglesias, a charismatic politics professor whose familiarity with the media and regular appearances on television debate programs is thought to have helped Podemos gain so much ground in such a short space of time. “I am not an alpha male, I will submit to the orders of the majority.”