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ELECTION

Spanish elections: Podemos co-founder forms new party (to rival Podemos)

The former number two of Spain's Podemos said Wednesday he would contest November's elections, running against his former close friend Pablo Iglesias who heads the far-left party.

Spanish elections: Podemos co-founder forms new party (to rival Podemos)
Errejon and Iglesias when Podemos first entered Spain's Parliament in 2016. Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP

The move looks set to further fragment the divided left-wing parties just six weeks ahead of the November 10th vote, which will be the fourth general election in as many years.

Voters were recalled to the ballot box after Socialist Prime Minister Pablo Sanchez failed to secure support to be confirmed as premier despite months of negotiations, primarily with Podemos.

Inigo Errejon, 35, said he would run at the head of a new list called Mas Pais — “More for the country” — capping weeks of speculation about whether he would throw his hat into the ring.

At a meeting in Madrid, the party confirmed it would contest the elections with Errejon heading a list made up of mostly women.   

The move is likely to cement the political and personal split between Iglesias and Errejon who had been part of Spain's anti-austerity “Indignados” movement and who jointly founded Podemos in January 2014.

In a 30-minute address, Errojon said the only thing dragging the country back to the ballot box was “the irresponsibility of the political leaders” who had failed to reach an agreement, in a swipe at the Socialists and Podemos.

“I understand the almost unanimous anger… with the current leaders and the political impasse… which runs the risk of translating into abstention,” he said.

“Spain needs to break the impasse” and for that, it was crucial to ensure that no-one stayed at home “disillusioned, exhausted, drained”.   

“If we want the result to be different, we have to vote in a different way to ensure there is a progressive government,” he said, presenting Mas Pais as “part of the solution”.

Best friends no more

For years, Iglesias and Errejon — who both hold a doctorate in political science — were largely inseparable after becoming friends while studying at Madrid's Complutense University.

After founding Podemos, they worked closely together with Errejon serving as Iglesias' deputy until 2017 when they became embroiled in a power struggle that sparked a deep rift within the party.

The dispute was only resolved when Iglesias won a clear mandate to continue as leader.

“Inigo and I were very good friends, we're not any more,” Iglesias said on Tuesday.   

As they grew further apart, matters came to a head earlier this year when Errejon co-launched a new leftist platform called Mas Madrid, which ran against Podemos in regional elections in May, weakening support for his former party.   

Through Mas Pais, Errejon is likely to try and fill the political space between the radical policies of Podemos and the more moderate stance of Sanchez's Socialists.

Analysts have warned that Errejon's entry into the election race could be damaging not only for Iglesias but for the left as a whole.   

“By eroding support for Podemos and splintering the left vote, this could significantly undermine the left's performance in terms of the seat distribution, and potentially even deprive it of a majority,” Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi warned last week.

EXPLAINER: Why Spain is heading for yet another general election

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HEALTH

Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms

A controversial anti-abortion proposal by the far-right Vox party has sparked heated debate in a key election year for Spain, with its left-wing government raising the alarm about extremist agendas.

Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms

Last week, a Vox official in the northern region of Castilla y León, which is co-run by the right and far right, said doctors would have to offer women seeking an abortion the option of hearing the heartbeat of the foetus.

The measure is similar to that adopted last year by the far-right government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which requires pregnant women to listen to the foetus’ “vital functions’ before having an abortion.

The aim was “to promote childbirth and support families”, said the region’s deputy head Juan Garcia-Gallardo, a member of Vox which, like other parties of its ilk, has put a lot of focus on this ideologically charged issue.

READ ALSO: Spain’s Castilla y León to introduce measures to prevent abortions

Spain, a European leader when it comes to women’s rights, decriminalised abortion in 1985 and in 2010 it passed a law that allows women to opt freely for abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in most cases.

A government bill which aims to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals is currently making its way through parliament.

‘Threat is very real’

Vox in 2022 entered a regional government for the first time since it was founded in 2013 when it became the junior partner in a coalition with the conservative Popular Party (PP) in Castilla y León.

The experiment in the region close to Madrid is being closely watched: polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern.

Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez used his address at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday to warn of the threat posed by the far-right, in what was seen as a reference to Castilla y León.

“We have to prevent these political forces from reaching the institutions… because the threat is very real, especially in those countries where far-right forces have the support of mainstream conservative parties,” he said.

He accused Moscow of using far-right parties to sow division in Europe, adding: “We will fight them with the same determination and conviction that the Ukrainians are fighting Russian forces.”

Sánchez’s executive has sent two notices to the regional government of Castilla y León reminding it that it does not have the authority to alter the abortion law.

READ ALSO: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

‘Drive a wedge’

Meanwhile, the main opposition PP has tried to distance itself from the controversy. It said the measure, which was first put forward by Garcia-Gallardo, will never come into force.

During a TV interview on Tuesday, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo said: “No woman who wants to voluntarily interrupt her pregnancy according to the law will be coerced anywhere where the PP governs.”

Feijóo, who has pushed the PP to the centre since becoming leader of the party in April, did not hide his discomfort with Vox, which he said was “clearly mistaken”.

He said the far-right party had sparked a controversy that “clearly” benefitted Sánchez’s government, which had “a lot of problems”.

The abortion row has overshadowed other disputes troubling the government. They include a row sparked by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Antonio Barroso, of political consultancy Teneo, said Vox was “trying to drive a wedge within the PP by pushing for initiatives that pull the party away from the centre”.

Controversies over issues like abortion could help Sánchez “to mobilise the left-wing electorate by capitalising on their potential fears of a PP-Vox government”, he added in a research note.

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