Tue, Dec 16, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Spanish leaders ‘panic’ as new party gains popularity

AFP, MADRID

Spain’s conservative ruling party and the opposition Socialists are in panic mode as a surge in support for the Podemos Party shows little signs of abating ahead of elections next year.

Less than a year since it was born out of the Indignants protest movement, Podemos, with its pledge to defend the poor and bring to heel the elite “caste” of politicians and bankers, is leading opinion polls.

That has sent the two main parties that have governed Spain since the end of former Spanish leader Francisco Franco’s rule in 1975 panicking.

The deputy leader of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, compared Podemos to Venezuela’s left-wing leaders and former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

“This kind of party, based on demagogy and populism ... is very dangerous for the system and for democracy, for the Popular Party and for any political party,” De Cospedal said last month. “We know they are against everything. We don’t know what they are in favor of.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s target was clear when he railed against parties that sow “general mistrust ... pointing the finger at the system,” even if he did not name names on that occasion.

The main opposition party has also taken aim at Podemos.

“Populism has taken institutional form in Podemos,” Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez said. “We call them by their name. They are the ones who have to explain whether or not they defend the regime of Chavez and of Venezuela.”

Analysts say the establishment’s backlash against Podemos is telling.

“It is an attack of panic against the new,” economist Juan Ignacio Crespo said.

Podemos has seen a meteoric rise in Spanish politics.

Just four months after it was formed, it won 1.2 million votes and five seats in the elections for the European parliament in May.

Last month, an opinion poll found that 28.6 percent of respondents would vote for Podemos in next year’s elections. The ruling conservatives got 26.3 percent, while the Socialists had just 20.1 percent, the survey showed.

“We were born to win,” said its pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias, a university lecturer. “Our challenge is to build with others a political alternative to govern our country.”

Iglesias has yet to unveil detailed economic policies for his party, but has called for a possible restructuring of Spain’s debt and a rise in the minimum wage.

However, its stance has drawn skeptical responses from Spanish big business, with critics warning that Iglesias’s left-wing economic views might scare off investors.

Newspapers such as the biggest-selling Spanish daily El Pais have covered allegations of misdoings by Podemos leaders.

Among these are accusations that Podemos deputy leader Inigo Errejon claimed pay for a job he did not turn up to at Malaga University.

An El Pais editor said in a recent column that loyal readers were starting to be turned off by what they saw as unfairly harsh coverage of Podemos.

Iglesias is a regular fixture on numerous private channels, which appreciate his commercial value, said Fernando Cano, editor of the specialist media news site PR Noticias.

However, journalists at Spanish national television recently denounced the station’s reluctance to get Iglesias on air for an interview.

“We consider it an unacceptable veto that could be interpreted as censorship,” they wrote.

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