Spain’s rising political star is Communist Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, who has won over employers and voters and is now trying to carve out a new space on the far left before the next general election.
Little known two years ago, polls show the 50-year-old labour lawyer is Spain’s most highly regarded politician, ahead of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the leaders of conservative parties.
Conservative daily newspaper ABC has called her Spain’s “most powerful female politician” and on Facebook fan pages her supporters dream she will become the nation’s first woman PM.
A card-carrying member of the Spanish Communist Party, Diaz entered Sanchez’s coalition government with far-left party Podemos in January 2020.
Her profile rose further in May this year after the charismatic but polarising leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, passed the reins of the far left to her after he decided to quit politics.
She was appointed to the post of second deputy prime minister in July.
With her permanent smile, she cultivates a friendly and conciliatory image that contrasts with Iglesias’ often angry tone which has been welcomed by business leaders.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Spain, Diaz negotiated with unions and business associations the terms of the country’s furlough scheme, which offered financial aid for hundreds of thousands of workers whose jobs were hit by the health crisis.
She is also responsible for a law protecting delivery workers and is now in talks to reform the country’s labour laws which has led her to clash with Socialist cabinet members.
With her popularity surging, Diaz was one of the main drivers of a meeting on November 13 of leftist activists dubbed “Other Politics” in the eastern city of Valencia.
The gathering was widely seen as a first step towards creating a new far-left platform that will stand in the next general election due in two years time.
“This is the start of something that is going to be wonderful,” she said as she was surrounded by leftist women politicians.
Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, said Diaz “does not talk of parties” but instead of a “different organisational model” that puts the emphasis on civil society.
The strategy aims to “expand the space” occupied by the left with a focus on “feminism, environmentalism and social justice” at a time when Podemos has slumped in the polls.
“Diaz is aware that Podemos is no longer in its moment of glory,” Monge told AFP.
Diaz was born into a family of trade unionists in the same region of Galicia in northwestern Spain where former right-wing dictator Francisco Franco hailed from.
Her father was a member of the Communist Party during the dictatorship when the formation was illegal and she entered municipal politics in Galicia in 2003.
Her pride in her political affiliation led her to get married decked out in red, and she likes to tell of how when she was aged four she received a kiss on her hand from the historic leader of the Spanish Communist Party, Santiago Carrillo.
As her profile has risen, Diaz has changed her style, dyeing her hair from brown to blonde and dressing more elegantly, a change that analysts say makes her more appealing to more centrist voters.
Podemos, however, will seek to position itself clearly on the far left and ensure it continues to lead this part of the political spectrum, said Monge.
Most polls currently put the main opposition conservative Popular Party on top in voting intentions, slightly ahead of the Socialists.
The Socialists are “watching closely” to see what Diaz does as they are aware that they will need the support of the far left again to continue to govern after the next election, Monge added.