Podemos set to join the once-loathed ‘political caste’?

Pablo Iglesias, launching his candidacy for another term as Podemos leader. Photo: David Fernández/EFE via El Diario
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It would seem to be an about-face from Podemos’ official discourse, which pointed to term limits and salary restrictions for party leaders, along with a more democratic party structure and no membership fees, as signals of a new type of responsive politics, which were the hallmarks of the left-wing party that emerged in 2014 on a tide of anti-austerity sentiment that had swept across Spain.

On Sunday, Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias announced his virtual shoe-in candidacy to lead the party for a third-term and in doing so unveiled proposals forming part of his candidacy platform.

If approved as expected by the party membership at the upcoming Podemos assembly on 21st March, however, those proposals will toss the party’s hallmark term limits and salary restrictions out the window, do away with the democratic territorial “circles” structure of the party and charge mandatory membership fees for the first time in the party’s history.

► News Sources: El Diario, El País and Antena3 noticias…

It’s quite a turnaround for Iglesias, who as the only general secretary that Podemos members have ever known, is also currently the 2nd Vice President for Social Affairs in the new Socialist-led coalition government.

Following the 2016 election of Podemos deputies to Spain’s Congress, the Podemos leader defended the salary and term-limit restrictions at the party’s Vistalegre II party Congress in 2017, saying they were essential to keeping the party politically honest, differentiating it from the “political caste” of career politicians loathed by Podemos supporters and Iglesias himself.

“Many criticize us for having limited our salary to three minimum wages, and say it is ridiculous,” Iglesias told supporters, calling for Podemos leaders to be held to that wage-limit commitment “so that we never forget where we came from, that we are passing through , that the seats are not ours, that they belong to the people …”

► Download PDF [in Spanish] of Podemos ‘Documento ético’ proposal …

The proposed changes to Podemos’ ethical guidelines for the leadership were outlined in a document aired at Iglesias’ rally on Sunday. They include changing the term limits for Podemos leaders serving in public office from the current limit of eight years to a total of 12 years, with the possibility of a Podemos leader remaining in public office “indefinitely” pending ratification by a vote of the party membership.

Podemos has previously limited the salary of its leaders to the equivalent of three minimum monthly salaries since 2014, when the minimum wage established in Spain was just 650 euros per month. Now, with the minimum salary just having risen to 950 euros per month and the government committed to increasing it to 1,200 per month by the end of the current legislative session, the new Podemos proposal under Iglesias is to remove the restriction altogether.

The proposal does also call for party leaders to donate a portion of their salaries to the the Podemos coffers, but that amount is unspecified in the proposed changes.

The Iglesias proposal also would oblige party members to pay a new membership fee, just like Spain’s traditional political parties, to help finance the party’s operating expenses. In Podemos’ case, the membership quotas would also help the party refrain from recurring to loans from Spanish banks in order to maintain its independence from the financial sector.

And, the new proposals would do away with the party’s hallmark territorial “circles” structure that was to guarantee greater democracy in decision-making, replacing the “circles” with an internal party apparatus that resembles much more the hierarchical structures of Spain’s traditional political parties.

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