SPAIN

Mass rally in Madrid for anti-austerity Podemos party

Demonstrators gather at Plaza de Sol in Madrid during the "March for Change" planned by left-wing party Podemos on January 31, 2015.
Demonstrators gather at Plaza de Sol in Madrid during the "March for Change" planned by left-wing party Podemos on January 31, 2015. AFP / Pedro Armestre
3 min

Tens of thousands marched in the Spanish capital Madrid on Saturday in a show of support for fledgling leftist anti-austerity party Podemos, whose surging popularity has drawn comparisons with the Syriza party that just took power in Greece.

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Crowds chanted, “Yes we can” and “Tic tac, tic tac”, suggesting the clock was ticking for the political elite. Many waved Greek and Republican flags and banners reading: “The change is now.”

Podemos (“We Can”) was formed just a year ago, but produced a major shock by winning five seats in elections for the European Parliament in May, and opinion polls suggest the party could be a major force in local, regional and national elections this year.

“People are fed up with the political class,” said Antonia Fernandez, a 69-year-old pensioner from Madrid who had come to the demonstration with her family.

Fernandez, who lives with her husband on a 700-euros-a-month combined pension cheque, said she used to vote for the socialist party but had lost faith in it because of its handling of the economic crisis and its austerity policies.

“If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” she said.

Podemos said 260 buses brought supporters to the capital from across Spain for the "March for Change", with hundreds of locals signed on to host travellers.

"There are many people that agree with the need for change. Enough already with stealing – that the corrupt take everything and we can't do anything," said Dori Sanchez, a 23-year-old unemployed teacher who came from Manovar in southeastern Spain for the rally.

Spain is emerging from a seven-year economic slump as one of the eurozone’s fastest growing countries, but the exit from recession has yet to ease the hardship for thousands of households.

Nearly one in four people remain unemployed, salaries for many have dropped and the number of workers on low-paid short-term contracts has soared.

Rejecting austerity

Syriza beat mainstream Greek parties by pledging to end austerity, as Podemos aims to do in Spain's general election due in November.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old pony-tailed former university professor, appeared alongside Syriza's Alexis Tsipras, now Greece's prime minister, to publicly support him during his campaign.

Like Syriza, Podemos has found popular support by targeting corruption and rejecting austerity programmes aimed at lifting the countries out of deep economic crisis.

It wants to prevent profitable companies from firing people, abolish private hospitals to return to a fully state-controlled health care system and enact a "significant" minimum-wage hike.

The party has struck a chord with Spaniards enraged by a string of corruption scandals, as well as public spending cuts imposed by the conservative ruling party and previously by the Socialists after the economic crisis erupted in 2008.

Born out of the "Indignant" protest movement that occupied squares across Spain at the height of the economic crisis, Podemos has overtaken the mainstream opposition Socialist Party in several opinion polls, and in some has topped the list ahead of the conservative ruling People's Party (PP).

The Socialists and the PP have ruled Spain alternately since the country returned to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned Spaniards not to "play Russian roulette" by supporting Podemos, which he said "promises the moon and the sun" but will not deliver.

Critics of Podemos have accused it of having links to Venezuela's left-wing leaders and alleged fiscal irregularities by some of its top members.

The party's leaders have promised to publish their tax returns to dispel the allegations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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