Can Spain’s new leftist party survive?

Spain’s turbulent economic state continues without improvement and Spanish citizens have had enough. They are tired of corrupt government officials and unemployment rates that leave…

FILE: Leader of Podemos (We Can) Pablo Iglesias smiles on stage at the end of a march on January 31, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. Some say the Podemos (We Can), anti-austerity left-wing party is playing up to populist whims, while others see Iglesias and his party as the possible saviors of a country suffering an economic collapse. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Spain’s turbulent economic state continues without improvement and Spanish citizens have had enough. They are tired of corrupt government officials and unemployment rates that leave more than a quarter of the country’s youth without financial stability or independence.

As the Spanish election approaches, there has been a surge of support for Podemos, a new left-wing political party, founded in 2014 by Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science professor.

Spain’s turbulent economic state continues without improvement and Spanish citizens have had enough.

A man shouts slogans as he holds a banners reading “Madrid welcomes you, March for Change” during a Podemos (We Can) party march in Madrid, Spain. (AP)

Hailing from the Madrid working class neighborhood of Vallecas, Iglesias prefers jeans and rolled up shirt sleeves to a suit and tie and champions slogans such as Spain is “run by the butlers of the rich” and that the economy must serve the people.

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The party came seemingly out of nowhere to win over a million votes and take five seats in the European parliamentary elections last May.

According to The Economist, almost 30% of Spaniards could vote Podemos at the next general election – 5 points clear of their nearest rivals, the leftist PSOE. There will also be a three-cornered race against Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) in the general election that is expected in November.

Podemos picks up steam fast in Spain

What is most remarkable is the PSOE was founded in 1879, and is one of Europe’s oldest social democratic parties, while Podemos has only just celebrated its first birthday. For a political party of such new beginnings to already have such a strong following is unheard of.

Over 150,000 people gathered in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol last Saturday to march in support of Podemos, counting down to what they hope and expect to be the last days of the existing Spanish political order. Supporters, mostly middle-aged and middle-class, took heart from recent polls and the Syriza victory in Greece.

Spain’s turbulent economic state continues without improvement and Spanish citizens have had enough.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spanish Podemos (We Can) left-wing party, gestures during his speech at the main square of Madrid during a Podemos (We Can) party march in Madrid. (AP)

Pablo Iglesias talks of a country on its knees, humiliated by Germany and looted by corrupt politicians and neoliberal capitalists.

Statistics say otherwise. Some 400,000 jobs were created in the year to January and salaries are rising in real terms.

Ana Botín, head of Santander bank, predicts that GDP growth will be above 2.5%, making Spain a euro-zone star.

However, to Spaniards none of this really matters. Unemployment is running at 24%, and four-fifths of new jobs are on short-term contracts. The economy and jobs come top of the public’s list of worries, along with corruption.

Only nine months ago, Rajoy’s advisers called Podemos “freaks” but after their success in the polls and in Madrid, the PP takes it seriously now.

Podemos remains light on policy. The Andalucia election on March 22nd, which requires a manifesto, may change that. Internal debate on the economy revolves not just around shorter working weeks and a Syriza-style restructuring of public debt, but also possible haircuts on private debt.

Whether Podemos can sustain their momentum depends on several factors some of which are beyond their control. If the new Syriza government in Greece fails it will contaminate the Podemos brand in Spain.

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The Spanish economy is slowly picking up and this may be enough for some voters to back peddle on their decision to support Podemos. It’s far from clear whether the party has enough logistical muscle to obtain a large number of first time voters.

But who knows? The Spanish middle class may be angry enough to make that bold move once and for all.