Iglesias leaves Sánchez's government to run against Ayuso in Madrid elections

Yolanda Diaz to become new Unidas Podemos leader, whilst Iglesias seeks unitary candidacy of the left in the elections

3 min

New shake-up in Spanish politics. The leader of Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, has announced in a video that he will be leaving Pedro Sánchez's government to run against the current president and candidate of the PP, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, in the Madrid elections. This also means the current Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, will take over as party leader and, Iglesias hopes, Spanish vice-president. He is also backing Secretary of State for Agenda 2030, Ione Belarra, to replace him as Minister of Social Rights.

Iglesias has also called on Íñigo Errejón's party, Más Madrid, to ensure the "transformative left" has a single unitary candidacy for the upcoming May 4 elections in the Spanish capital, in an intervention without any explicit reference to the role that the socialists would play. The Socialists' candidate is Ángel Galibondo, who already ran in the 2019 elections.

The decision, he says, comes after days "of reflection" and talking carefully with Isa Serra, the party spokeswoman who was expected to run in the election, although there were doubts about whether the justice system would end up disqualifying her first. "On May 4 it will be decided if the far right consummates the assault on Madrid or if we stop them: we must prevent these delinquents, these criminals who defend the dictatorship, these apologists of state terrorism who promote violence against migrants, homosexuals and feminists and who consider soldiers who talk about shooting 26 million reds 'their people' and want to give them all the power in the country", Iglesias has pointed out putting, in a taste of the election campaign to come.

A transition in United Podemos

Iglesias's sudden announcement, after a heart-stopping political week in which the centre-right has imploded, adds uncertainty to the future of the Spanish legislature. On the one hand, it can be interpreted as a withdrawal from the political front line, handing over party leadership to Yolanda Diaz, as more and more critical voices were demanding after weeks of decline in the polls. On the other, it also opens the possibility of early elections at state level at the end of the year, despite the fact that Pedro Sanchez has repeated many times that he wanted to extend the legislature until 2023. If so, Iglesias would give some leeway to Diaz to take the reins of the party.

According to Podemos sources, Sánchez, who is on an official visit to France for a bilateral summit, was informed of Iglesias's decision today. The replacement at ministerial level, which requires the Spanish president's backing, would become effective on April 20 so that Iglesias can start the campaign once he has received party members' backing. The same sources say the move anticipates a transition in the party so that Diaz, a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), ends up leading it.

Given the announcement, both Ayuso and Pablo Casado have reacted in chorus on Twitter saying that what the decision on May 4 is not between "socialism and freedom" - the slogan they have been using since Thursday - but between "communism and freedom". All this anticipates a very polarised campaign, although the Secretary of Organisation of the PSOE, José Luis Ábalos, defended Gabilondo as a "moderate" profile and a person "of peace". In a press conference after the party's executive, the also Minister of Transport has ensured that he is the best profile to "lower the tone of tension in Madrid". However, he also admitted that they did not have much choice since there are only a few weeks left before the election.

On Sunday, the Madrid's High Court of Justice rejected the precautionary measures requested by Assembly of Madrid's bureau to cancel the electoral call, agreeing for the moment with Ayuso. But none of the parties are waiting for the ruling and are readying their election campaign. Iglesias's announcement puts Más Madrid in a difficult position: Errejón's party ruled out a unity candidacy of the left because, in his opinion, it would not contribute to obtaining more seats, as happened in 2016.

Now, however, if Iglesias attracts too many voters they would run the risk of not reaching the 5% of the vote necessary to enter the Assembly, as could happen to Ciudadanos. Mónica Escudero, who was to be the candidate of Más Madrid, has explained that Iglesias has already called her and that they are willing to talk, also with Gabilondo. "Everyone has to respect the rest of the political spaces," she told La Sexta.

Iglesias's move hopes to put an end to the left's bleak prospects in the elections. It has already been taken for granted that Ayuso will continue in government and the only doubts are those around Vox participating in a coalition government and whether Ciudadanos will obtain the 5% of votes in needs to have any representation in the Madrid Assembly.