Photo: Bloco

Barcelona en Comú joins Podemos in Spanish elections

  • November 5, 2015

City & Commons

Barcelona en Comú declared it will stand with Podemos, breathing new life into the ailing party. But, will it be enough to enforce constitutional change?

Last week, Barcelona En Comú declared that their radical municipal platform—currently governing Spain’s second largest city—will stand with Podemos in the Spanish general elections on December 20. According to their press release, the motion was passed by the platform’s plenary assembly with 71% of the vote in favor.

The candidacy will be a Catalan coalition aiming to secure its own parliamentary group in the Spanish Congress. The election ticket in Barcelona will be headed up by Xavier Domenech, a well-known historian and one of the leading voices in debates on constitutional processes and historical memory. A figure of consensus among the political forces signing the agreement, Domenech gained a certain level of notoriety in his short time as the city’s Commissioner for Strategic Studies and Historical Memory.

His most well-known gestures include removing the bust of Juan Carlos I, the former king of Spain, from the city council chamber, as well as moving to change the name of a prominent plaza currently dedicated to a known slave trader and denying the use of the Montjuic Castle for a service in memory of executed Franco supporters.

The second spot on the list will be filled by independent candidate Marta Sibina, a public healthcare activist and former director of the independent media publication Caféambllet. The list will also include activists from the housing movement, the platform for a citizen debt audit, and the labor movement. The lists for the remaining provinces of Catalonia are still to be confirmed, but will also be led by independents with links to social movements.

The name of the coalition in Catalonia will be En Comú Podem (“in common we can”). Their program will be based on four points, including the right to Catalan self-determination, the protection of municipal sovereignty and the defense of the citizen municipal movement, an emergency citizen rescue plan to deal with the impacts of the economic crisis and neoliberal austerity, and new mechanisms for change that tackle cross-border challenges such as TTIP and climate change.

The move comes after several months of declining support for Podemos in national polls and the underwhelming results achieved by a coalition between Podemos and the Catalan Greens in September’s regional elections.

Framed by Catalan politicians as a pseudo-referendum on their nation’s independence from Spain, the regional elections resulted in a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament and a surge in support for the pro-Spain Ciudadanos party, whose unequivocal centralism clashed with Podemos’s nuanced support for a binding referendum and constitutional change.

Over recent weeks, Podemos have approached radical parties and coalitions in Catalonia, Galicia and Valencia, among other regions, with the goal of building local coalitions in favor of changing Spain’s constitution along five points. These points include reforming Spain’s electoral law, guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary, guaranteeing social rights including decent housing, education and health care, stopping the revolving door mechanisms between political and business elites, and reforming the Senate to guarantee territorial representation.

According to a poll published in El País on Sunday, November 1, since adopting this strategy Podemos have reversed their declining numbers, and support once again appears to be on the upswing.

There are many aspects of this strategy that may, at first glance, seem surprising. On the one hand, there is the support of a municipalist platform like Barcelona En Comú for a party seeking to govern the state. On the other, Podemos have frequently been accused of electoral opportunism and criticized internally and by other left-wing parties for not being open enough to citizens in deciding their approach to coalitions.

With this in mind, siding with the so-called “peripheral nations” in the Spanish state in order to defend a constitutional reform that reflects its “plurinational” character seems like a decidedly unpopular stance.

Still, standing with Podemos is not as surprising a decision for Barcelona En Comú as it may seem at first. It is worth pointing out that Podemos is one of the major parties within Barcelona En Comú, and for many voters the line between the two is often blurry.

Moreover, as Barcelona En Comú have gained experience in dealing with the various levels of Spain’s administrative structure, they have encountered a considerable amount of bureaucratic interference from the state on matters ranging from the management of public space to closing the city’s migrant detention center. Of the four main contenders in the general elections, Podemos is the most hostile to increased centralization.

Finally, Podemos’s support for settling the question of Spain’s relationship with Catalonia through a referendum—on the grounds that the right to self-determination is a basic human right—is in line with the position of Barcelona En Comú.

On the other hand, Podemos’ strategy of siding with local parties in Catalonia, Valencia, Galicia and elsewhere is, for the most part, a reflection of the pacts they have made at the municipal level. This strategy was voted on and approved by Podemos supporters in July.

Nonetheless, the decision has sparked some controversy. Earlier this year, when a new “confluence” platform called Ahora En Común proposed a single list blending Podemos with the United Left and others through open primaries, Podemos rejected the proposal outright, claiming it was simply a ploy to resuscitate a declining party. This led Ahora En Común supporters to criticize Podemos for its seemingly conservative stance and unwillingness to open themselves to citizen participation.

Curiously, though, by basing their approach on a logic of territorial coalitions, Podemos have essentially guaranteed that a rather profound constitutional change will be at the center of their program. As Spain’s party system grows more fragmented, with no less than four parties vying for the top spot, Podemos can either force a hypothetical governing coalition to accept profound structural changes or amplify the existing tensions in a country where frustration with the central state is growing.

Carlos Delclós

Carlos Delclós is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. His research interests include international migration, social stratification, fertility, urban sociology, social movements and cultural theory.

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