Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

Gangs, drugs and radicalisation: Manchester bomber 'fits profile of other terrorists'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

OPEC looks set to extend production cut

Read more

ENCORE!

Could Sean Baker's movie be the best at the fest?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

A frosty Vatican reception?

Read more

THE DEBATE

We'll always have Cannes: World's most famous film festival turns 70 (part 2)

Read more

THE DEBATE

We'll always have Cannes: World's most famous film festival turns 70 (part 1)

Read more

ENCORE!

Cannes 2017: Sofia Coppola returns with fraught thriller 'The Beguiled'

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Meeting 'cultural activist' and soprano Dima Bawab

Read more

FOCUS

Spain's Doñana National Park is dying of thirst

Read more

Europe

Leaders battle for soul of Spain’s Podemos at crucial congress

© Pierre-Philippe Marcou, AFP | Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias addresses the party's congress in Madrid, with his friend-turned-rival Inigo Errejon (bottom left corner) looking on.

Video by Emerald MAXWELL

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-02-11

Pleading for "unity", thousands of Podemos supporters gathered Saturday at a decisive two-day meeting in Madrid that could unseat the charismatic leader of one of Europe's leading far-left parties.

Born in 2014 out of the Indignados anti-austerity protest movement that swept Spain during a severe economic crisis, the party has found itself riven by in-fighting after a meteoric rise to national-level politics.

But on Saturday, party leaders attempted to put these bitter divisions behind them as they took to the stage in a congress centre bathed in purple flags and banners, the colour of Podemos, in an electric atmosphere.

"We have committed many mistakes," Pablo Iglesias, the party's charismatic leader and co-founder, said while standing on stage behind huge block letters spelling out "Podemos".

To wild applause, the 38-year-old added the weekend's congress should be "an example of fraternity, unity and intelligence".

For months, Iglesias and his deputy and former close friend Inigo Errejon, 33, have been locked in a high-profile duel over how to steer the party towards taking power now that it has become Spain's third most powerful political force.

Supporters are hoping the deep and damaging rift will be put to rest by Sunday, when they elect a new leadership council and secretary general, with Iglesias presenting his candidacy again.

Crucially, they will also vote on a strategy for moving the party forward.

Protest or compromise?

After a meteoric rise that saw it shatter Spain's traditional two-party system, coming third in 2015 general elections and in a repeat 2016 vote, Podemos now finds itself at a crossroads.

Should the party, which harnessed the anger of millions stung by Spain's economic crisis, take to the streets again as an anti-establishment group, as wanted by Iglesias and his followers?

Or should it shed an "enfant terrible" image that may be scaring away voters now that it has become a credible political force, and work from within parliament as Errejon and his supporters propose?

“The essential difference between the two is that Inigo Errejon would like the party to use its 71 MPs to actually get something done, to get laws changed, to make a difference to people, while Pablo Iglesias is a firm believer in street protests,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent Sarah Morris, reporting from the congress in Madrid.

'Pablo and Inigo are clever enough to have a good debate'

The congress caps three intense years for a party that went from nothing to securing millions of votes in general elections, on a promise of radical change and a more egalitarian society.

But for some supporters, the months of in-fighting have left their "scar", as 49-year-old Rafa Burguillo put it.

He travelled to Madrid for the congress from Barcelona with his wife Eva Campos, a Podemos councillor, and their eight-year-old son.

"When people get a taste of power, they really like it. And they forget that what they actually have to do is debate to change the system," he said.

Iglesias threatens to quit

Two self-imposed challenges loom for Podemos: replacing the Socialists as Spain's main opposition party, and eventually taking power.

Iglesias' and Errejon's differences over how to do this have created friction as party members have picked sides, prompting accusations of a purge against dissenters by those close to the Podemos chief.

“It’s incredible to think that these two men, who started off as best of friends and really shaped this anti-austerity party, have now come to this,” said FRANCE 24’s Morris.

“The bickering has reached such a point that we have heard constant calls for unity from supporters here at the congress,” she added.

Video: Podemos supporters are pleading for unity

On Saturday, the duelling pair attempted to put on a united front, appearing on stage together along with other leaders from either side.

"From Monday, more Podemos, more together, stronger," Errejon told the crowd, to huge applause.

But behind the show of unity, both teams have drafted competing lists of candidates for the leadership council.

Errejon is not standing for secretary general, which means Iglesias will almost certainly be re-elected as Podemos chief, since the only other candidate is a low-profile lawmaker.

However, Iglesias has said that if his list of candidates for the leadership council and his strategy are not approved, he will step aside.

That would set the scene for a second crisis within Podemos as the party tries to replace him.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

Date created : 2017-02-11

  • SPAIN

    Former Catalan chief Artur Mas on trial for independence referendum

    Read more

  • SPAIN

    Rajoy returned as PM in confidence vote, ending Spain’s political crisis

    Read more

  • SPAIN

    Spain's Socialist leader resigns amid party revolt

    Read more

COMMENT(S)