Podemos: Where to now?

interview with: David Perejil (Podemos, International Secretariat)
edited by: Dae-Han Song (English Chief Editor, The [su:p])

Results from the April 2019 election. Source:  BBC

Results from the April 2019 election. Source: BBC

On June 19, 2019, the International Strategy Center and the International Progressive Politics Research Group and the International Progressive Politics Forum of the Seoul Branch of the Justice Party interviewed David Perejil a member of Podemos’ International Secretariat. 

David Perejil was a founding member of the International Secretariat. He was also a part of the 2011 M-15 Indignado Movement’s Real Democracy Now. He is a journalist and a member of Podemos’ International Secretariat. We interviewed him to understand the results of the May EU Parliamentary elections as well as Spain’s April 28 general election and the May regional and local elections. 

Update: Over 100 days since the elections, the PSOE and Podemos have not succeeded in forming a coalition government. If they fail to form one by Sept. 23rd, a new election will be held. 

Podemos emerged in the political arena in the 2014 EU Parliamentary elections as an alternative to the mainstream PSOE and PP parties. However, a victor of the EU Parliamentary elections from May 23rd to the 26th was the far-right party Vox that portrayed itself as the alternative to the PSOE and PP. Has Podemos lost its status as the alternative to the PSOE and PP? And if so, how does it plan to restore it?
Podemos was created after the 15M movement. At the time, Spain was suffering multiple crises including an economic crisis affecting not just Spain but all of Europe. We also had a historical crisis. Spain was suffering from its inability during the past 40 years of dealing with the issues arising after Franco’s dictatorship. Spain had moved towards a democratic system; however, those in power during Franco’s dictatorship remained in their positions. Since that time, we had an electoral system where the conservative rural areas have greater representation than the progressive urban ones. Furthermore, it was difficult for the common citizen to talk with their representatives or to even launch initiatives. The politicians were not connected to people in the streets, and they were protected by the electoral system. So, they were in a good position to be corrupted and stay in power. In addition, the old generation were running the country and blocked the creation of a political space for participation of the younger people. 

Spain underwent cultural and economic changes through the 15M movement. The huge crisis also created the possibility to change the power system. The 15M movement pursued long-term economic and social changes. It tried to solve a variety of complex issues, especially evictions. But, nothing changed because the old parties and old people decided to ignore the demands of the movement. So, our founders decided to build a new party.   

Podemos raised new concrete demands that were adapted to the demands of the citizens. The first one was full democracy in terms of participation and civil rights but also popular power to people demanding economic rights. We were suffering an economic and representative crisis. Our political system was in crisis with the left and the right issues in crisis. We were new and we were raising new demands.  In 2016, two years after its founding, Podemos won 20% of votes making it the 3rd largest party. This was an incredible result because at that time we were a baby party and that was the very best result in our history. 

However, after the 2016 general elections, a new territorial crisis emerged. Our history involves not just the left and right. It also involves Spanish nationalism and other kinds of nationalism in  Catalonia, and the Basque country. Unfortunately, in the past three years, we faced this crisis. It was bad for the country and for democracy and for us because these issues eclipsed our social and democratic demands.  

We weren’t satisfied with the last April 28 general elections when we got 3.7 million votes (14%). We did have the power to work with the PSOE. Before the election, while we hadn’t formed a government with the PSOE, we did work together around anti-conservatism and anti-corruption. We raised the issue of particular laws, the minimum wage, and drove out the conservative government. Podemos was pulling the PSOE government towards the left through our social and democratic demands. We demanded a system that could improve social programs, the economy, social economy, direct democracy and increased the minimum wage by 22%. But, we also failed: we tried to have a public system of housing and the PSOE were forced by banking to block it.   

While Podemos’s votes decreased, we still secured enough seats to work together with the PSOE. It’s important to note that this is the first time a far-right political party won seats in Parliament since the end of Franco’s dictatorship. However, if we look at the European political landscape, far-right wing parties won seats in the legislatures not just in Spain, but also Hungary, Italy, and France. Perhaps, we are facing a European wide crisis with the advance of these far-right parties. 

We need to ask not what our identity is today, but who we want to be tomorrow. To achieve this, we need to come up with a new framework. The 15M movement showed us that even though Spain’s people might be diverse, they can still come together as one. If we just focus on identity, then we can be split, but in the 15M movement people came together and fought for their rights as democratic citizens. 

What is the significance of Podemos’s 2019 election results? What impact do the results have on Podemos? How will Podemos prepare for the next election four years from now? Beyond the next election, what does Podemos’s vision, strategy, and future look like?
In May, we had the European Parliamentary elections and Spain’s regional and local elections. The far-right Vox party had emerged as a large threat. However, in the regional election, they only won about 6% of the vote compared to Podemos’s 10%. During the election, Podemos hadn’t effectively let people know about its main issues of democracy and economic change. 

The clear victor in this election was the PSOE. They are a party with a long established history. They copied our message and adapted their demands to this movement. They were very clever by also appealing to Spanish nationalism. 

It’s important to show Podemos entering government and working. We must show people we are playing a role in government. The social movement should build the desire for change, and Podemos, as a political party, should work with the PSOE to realize the demands for change. Podemos is about to conclude a kind of deal with the PSOE. Even as we try to resolve the issues of the democratic system, we also have to resolve the issues directly impacting people’s lives. 

In addition, history is very important. Spain’s history is a struggle between dictatorship and the realization of democracy. We need to do more education on this. Podemos believes that diverse forms of democracy are possible. It is important to show that we can create a new democracy together with our parents’ generation. That’s why we need a new social movement. And as we do that, we need to continuously study how the lives of people in the city and countryside are changing. We also need to figure out how to resolve and address the social demands that arise from there. While book knowledge about democracy is important, democracy is also what people decide. It is where the 99%, not the 1%, have power and the right to decide. 

While the energy from the 2016 candlelight protests in Korea is not visible, it is still present in the daily lives of people. Where can one see the energy of Spain’s 15M movement in society?
The 15M movement ended in 2012-2013. Were their demands resolved? Not yet. There is still a demand for social change. Furthermore, after the 15M movement, even the conservative parties have primaries and online polling to determine what their members want. It was Podemos that first introduced these systems. In addition, the housing issue hasn’t yet been resolved. There is still a demand for that. The energy of the 15M can still be felt. 

These issues are systematic. Those that actually experience it are the people. So you can say that a spirit of the 15M movement remains in those that recognize these problems. Furthermore, the social issues highlighted in the 15M movement are being talked about by all of the political parties, not just Podemos. Whether a new or established party, we have reached a consciousness where everyone is aware of these issues. At the time, the 15M movement and social movements led the way. Whether from the left or the right, people came out to the streets. Now, the energy of these movements is present in the systems of power. 

Group photo of David Perejil and participants

Group photo of David Perejil and participants