“To change things, you have to be part of the government,” says Ione Belarra, 30, a deputy from Unidas Podemos and the vice-spokesperson of the Podemos group in the last legislature, about the main objective of the Podemos parliamentary group in the new Congress, which will convene on May 21.
On Tuesday, Pedro Sánchez announced the end of the mini-consultations with the three leaders of the main parties: the last one was Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who on this occasion—unlike his attitude after the previous elections—made a display of prudence and diplomacy, saying that “[w]e agree that we must find an agreement, but it will take time.” The first crucial milestone will be the vote to elect the president of the Chamber (the president of the Senate will be the Catalan Miquel Iceta, a Socialist and avowed federalist, but the more important position of president of the Chamber is still up for grabs). The main players will only start making their moves after the May 26 elections (European, municipal and regional).
Ms. Belarra, what’s your take on the results of these elections?
We’ve run this campaign by telling the truth. We are the only ones who have said out loud that in Spain, those who actually rule are certain people, along with big business and the banks, who aren’t subject to approval at the polls. We have said these were decisive elections which would signal a new political and social order. And the results have proved us right: when voter participation is massive, the majority sentiment is favorable to progress and improvement. And then, there was the collapse of the PP, which was sunk by its own corruption. Nevertheless, if you add them together, the right-wingers have received a lot of votes, and the new presence of Vox in our elected institutions, although smaller than it had been feared, is still worrying. The only way to fight them is to guarantee rights and dismantle their discourse of hate towards whoever is different.
Is the situation better or worse than three years ago, when your party got 1.2 million more votes?
We would have liked to get more votes, obviously [Podemos’s result was 14%]. But the result gives us an essential role, and allows us to achieve our goals: to stop the right, to build a coalition government, to advance toward equality, to build a green future in order to fight climate change and to fight against insecurity. We have to be in the government. The economic powers-that-be want a government by the PSoE alone, or an alliance with Ciudadanos. The day after the election, they said so explicitly: they want a government without Podemos. Has our attitude of being responsible and saying exactly what we think is best for the country damaged our image? It likely has—also because the Socialists have often taken up our proposals and capitalized on their positive effects. But we’re in a better position now, indeed: no more Rajoy, no more “state cesspools” [referring to the scandal of political espionage targeting Podemos and the pro-independence Catalans], with feminism and the social movements now at the center of the debate: we are the engine of change in Europe.
Indeed—but if the PSoE and Ciudadanos were willing, they would have an absolute majority.
However, the government which would have greater social support—as all the polls are saying, and as both Socialist voters and our voters are saying—would be an alliance with us and with other forces. Many people voted for the PSoE in fear of the right-wingers, and intending that they should govern together with us, with the idea that the support we have offered them in recent months can now translate into a full alliance in Congress.
How will you be able to convince the PSoE to let you into the government?
The responsibility to find the numbers to get a new government voted in belongs to the PSoE. We have asked the voters to give us their vote in order to govern, and this is our mandate. Furthermore, the norm in Europe right now is coalition governments, not single-party governments. Our country has moved forward politically, thanks also to the indignados of the 15-M Movement and to the March 8 feminist movement. Pablo had the best performance in the debates because he was the most proactive and open to dialogue—we have understood this, and we want to put the same principles into practice.
It’s easier said than done, though, when you only got half the votes of the Socialists.
In politics, you have to educate people. Things don’t change overnight. The art of politics is to be able to convince others and make the best deals. Ninety percent of the budget proposals that the Socialists put forward [without being able to get them approved] have been the same as our proposals. This is our inspiration for what we do: to convince others by making innovative proposals.
What have you learned over the years?
We have gone through a process of profound internal reflection: the internal wars have been shameful for us. We have not risen up to the level of the responsibility that the citizens bestowed upon us. We have also learned that it’s not enough to be in Congress: without mobilization, it’s difficult to bring the true demands of society into the spotlight, even though we are convinced that we are an instrument for change.
Have you also learned that the left-wing parties win if they don’t fight with each other?
More than anything, it’s a matter of tone. Our proposals are even more radical than those of three years ago: the proposal that banks should not be allowed to finance the election campaigns of political parties, the provisions regarding the independence of media outlets, or the tax on the banks: these are proposals for radical democracy, towards which the PSoE is skeptical. But we have learned that we can put these proposals on the table in a calmer tone, trying to reach an agreement to bring about some results, such as the minimum wage: we wanted it higher, but it’s still the biggest increase in the history of our democracy, and it has changed people’s lives.
Which goals would you like to reach in order to feel satisfied at the end of the new legislature?
The same goals that civil society is fighting for. A more feminist country, in which, for example, the criminal code would say clearly that only “yes” means “yes” in a sexual relationship. The fight against climate change, which is advancing towards increasing the production of renewable energy. The guarantee of job stability, erasing the two reforms by the PP and the PSoE in past years. The fight against corruption and for transparency, to avoid any more “cesspools.” And the goal of “zero deaths in the Mediterranean” by setting up legal and safe avenues for immigration. I would love to be able to convince the PSoE that this is the only way for immigration to have dignity.
With a total of 5 deputies and senators still in prison, the Catalan issue is still a crucial part of the political agenda.
We have reached this point because of the PP and its re-centralization policy, and the sequence of disproportionate reactions from both sides. We have always proposed a democratic way forward, through dialogue. It is not acceptable that political leaders voted by millions of people are in jail: this is inconceivable, this anomaly has to end.
Does Podemos need a new leader, perhaps a woman?
The election results have put us in a position that is much closer to being in government, which was one of our goals. That said, if there is any party that is mature enough to be led by a woman, it would be Podemos. But now, the debate is not about us, but about the future of the country.
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