Little more than a month after Pablo Iglesias resigned from all his positions and left politics, Podemos reaches a first milestone in the process of reconfiguration of the left. This weekend, the purple party celebrates the face-to-face meeting with which it will close its fourth congress. It will be the first that Iglesias does not attend and from which he will not leave as general secretary: the one chosen to succeed him will be the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, who nevertheless heads a continuation team that has the main faces of the former leader’s nucleus of trust .
The Fourth Citizen Assembly – the name given to congresses in Podemos – has had a low profile. The lack of important rivals and the perception that Belarra will be the clear winner of the vote among the bases to elect the new secretary general has decaffeinated a congress that, however, is going to be crucial for the future of an organization that faces the biggest change in its seven years of life: to function without the strong personalism and charisma of Iglesias. Without doubts about the result, Belarra’s objective has been to encourage the rank and file to participate in the voting.
Very far is the figure of 107,488 people who participated, back in 2014, in the founding congress of the party. And much more that of the 155,190 militants who voted in the fierce Vistalegre II congress, where the two souls of the party, then embodied by Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón, faced each other in an all-out fight that the bases opted for on the side of the former. With the departure, first, of the Errejonist sector of the party and, last year, of the anti-capitalist, In Podemos it has been a long time since there has been an internal response to the management. And that already led to the fact that in the third congress, held virtually last year to re-elect Iglesias as secretary general without opposition, only 59,200 people voted.
On the three occasions in which he was elected general secretary, Iglesias achieved victories in the Bulgarian style: 96.8% of the votes in 2014, 89.1% in 2017 and 92.2% last year. Getting at least one participation and similar results would be a boost from the bases for Belarra, which has expressed its intention to launch a “choral” leadership, very different from the centralization around its figure of Churches.
There are three names called to mark the new stage of Podemos: in addition to that of the minister herself, the weight of training will carry her Irene Montero, and in theory both will be subordinate to the third vice president of the Government, Yolanda Diaz, whom Iglesias pointed to as the leader of United We Can in the Executive after his departure and as the next candidate of the coalition.
That will be one of the main novelties of the Podemos post-Iglesias that will be officially born on Sunday: go from a figure that centralized all power to a bicephaly in which, in addition, the leader of United We Can is not a member of the largest leg of the coalition -We can- and will mark the political line of the entire space from outside. It is an unprecedented situation in the purple formation, although parties like the PNV have been using this model for decades in which party and institutional positions go separately and exercise different functions.
A more bellicose party to shield Díaz
This new distribution of roles is the first serious challenge Belarra will have to face as leader: deciding with Díaz what role the party is going to play. Sources from Podemos explain that the debate is still in its infancy, although one of the ideas on the table is that We can assume a more combative profile while the purple reference in the Council of Ministers, in this case Díaz, concentrates on his executive work. The objective that the United We can leadership has in mind is not easy: to get away from the controversies and maintain the calm image of Díaz without losing the ability to pressure the PSOE and its own profile.
In recent weeks, this system has already begun to take shape. Belarra, for example, has opened the ban on criticism – mild, but in the end criticism – to the new design of the electricity bill, much contested by consumer associations and has asked to “rethink” it if necessary. After her, other leaders such as the parliamentary spokesman Pablo Echenique or the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, have joined the attention. But not Díaz, who has maintained a significant silence about this issue.
The election of Belarra as secretary general of Podemos, in addition, may be followed by other changes in the main command posts of Unidos Podemos. One of those on the eaves it is precisely that of parliamentary spokesman that Echenique occupies, whose harsh style of acting as spokesperson does little with the calm and soft tone that Díaz has wanted to print at Unidos Podemos since he took charge of the space.
This Friday, Echenique assured that he has not “thought” about whether he will run for the next elections, but he did point out that “it is not good to spend a long time” in office and gave Iglesias an example. “After only seven years in politics, he has gone home. I think that has to be a hallmark in Podemos, also for me. And, although I have not made the decision, I am giving enough clues “, he pointed. Minutes later, given the commotion generated, the leader had to come out to deny that he is going to leave politics in the short term. “I detect a certain desire for me to go among the media powers,” he joked.
To approach or not to Errejón
The alliance policy is also another issue to review in the new stage that is opening. The bond that unites Podemos and IU is firm, but in recent years, United Podemos has distanced itself from other progressive formations with which, at the time, it formed an entente, such as Anova or Compromís. Díaz has begun to rebuild bridges in meetings with the Valencianists, such as the one he held a few days ago with the mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó. But it remains to be seen how Podemos manages its relationship with Más País in this new cycle.
In an interview with this medium, Belarra was open to an understanding, but always within the framework of United We Can. And the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón, does not want to hear or talk about being under the purple umbrella again, although it is more likely to approach the Catalan confluence of Podemos, Catalunya en Comú. Its leader, Ada Colau, is emerging as one of the key leaders in this new stage, and has already begun to take positions to gain weight in decision-making and to open the door to Errejón.