Podemos leader quits as deputy PM to run for top Madrid post

Podemos leader quits as deputy PM to run for top Madrid post

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the hard-left party Podemos and a deputy prime minister in Spain’s ruling coalition, has said he is stepping down to run for head of the Madrid region.

“I have informed [the prime minister] Pedro Sánchez about my decision to leave my post in government when the campaign begins,” he said in a video message posted on social media, referring to the election scheduled for 4 May. “Madrid needs a leftwing government and I believe I can be useful in helping to win and lead it.”

The former professor of political science took up his position as one of four deputy prime ministers in January 2020, leading Podemos – formed in 2014 – into government for the first time.

His surprise resignation announcement came a day after a regional court gave the go-ahead for the snap election, which was called last week after the collapse of the region’s ruling coalition, which grouped the rightwing People’s party (PP) and the centre-right Citizens party.

The PP’s Isabel Díaz Ayuso, an outspoken rightwinger with relatively little political experience, sprang the move after Citizens filed a no-confidence motion against the PP in another region where they rule in coalition. Díaz Ayuso said she expected the same to happen with her.

Diaz Ayuso, who has led fierce opposition to the central government’s pandemic restrictions, has framed the snap polls as giving voters a choice “between Socialism and freedom”.

“Communism or freedom,” remarked opposition leader and PP chief Pablo Casado in a sardonic response on Twitter just minutes after Iglesias’ announcement.

Analysts said the move raises the stakes for May’s vote in Spain’s wealthiest region.

“It’s a strong play to try and displace Isabel Díaz Ayuso from the regional government,” said analyst Paloma Roman, adding that Iglesias was a “very strong and controversial figure, easily as controversial as Díaz Ayuso herself […] It could be a very polarised fight.”

Iglesias’s move could also ease tensions within Spain’s ruling coalition, she said, where there has been friction between the Socialists and Podemos since the coalition was formed in January 2020, notably over migrants, social policy and the state of Spain’s democracy.

In recent weeks, things have worsened with the parties clashing over a string of violent protests triggered by the jailing of a rapper for controversial tweets.

“Perhaps the departure of Pablo Iglesias from the government itself will ease those tensions… because he won’t be sitting with them in the cabinet,” Roman said.

Iglesias founded Podemos just over seven years ago from the anti-austerity Indignados protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011 during the global economic crisis.