A new Spanish political party called “Podemos” (“we can”) has seen meteoric growth in public support according to opinion polls. According to some polls, it has now surpassed in popularity the two major Spanish parties.

Its founding manifesto (a somewhat awkward translation here) presents Podemos as an outgrowth of the 2011 “Indignados” protests and the unrepresentative nature of the existing system:

Turning outrage into political change

Just as with other moments in history, we see today a European continent submerged in perplexity. Whilst the majorities look back with nostalgia on the past that is lost, certain powerful minorities, with no criterion other than their own survival, show that enrichment is their flag and impunity their horizon. Never in Europe have there been so many people discontented with their loss of rights, and, at the same time, so few prospects for channeling this outrage through a voting option that excites while at the same time, shows the capacity to represent the majorities under attack and a capacity for committed and efficient administration that makes the best possible options become real. Many find it intolerable that in the greatest crisis in the system since the crash of 1929, those forces that claim to be progressive are at their weakest point, thereby condemning the majorities in our countries to a kind of melancholy that leads to resignation and political depression. [Excerpted from the translation linked above with my touch ups.]

The manifesto makes quite a few familiar, mostly mainstream, left-wing policy demands (blocking of evictions, right to housing, nationalization of banking, decent wages and pensions, rejection of privatization, choice on abortion, protection of the environment, objection to use of military force, and immigrant rights). It also refers generally to familiar left-wing democratization ideas – “open participative process”, “horizontality and transparency”, and uses the familiar rhetoric of “hope” and hints at a former state of grace. The manifesto, however, doesn’t make any proposals for institutional changes that may change the oligarchical nature of the electoralist political system.

Mass political constitutional process

The constitutional process of Podemos followed a typical nominally democratic mass political path. At its inception, Pablo Iglesias, a professor of political science and a TV political pundit, was named as the secretary general of Podemos. In June Iglesias announced that a constitutional assembly, branded “Asamblea Ciudadana ‘Sí se puede'” (“Citizens’ Assembly ‘Yes, it can be done'”), is to be held soon. The online elections for an organizing committee were held within a week with all party members being allowed to vote and to propose candidate lists. Predictably, Iglesias’s list won with over 85% of the 55,000 votes.

The organizing committee invited party members to form “circles” and submit propositions (both constitutional propositions and policy propositions) to be voted upon – again, online – by party members. The constitutional proposition written by Iglesias and his associated (the “Claro Que Podemos” circle) won with over 80% of the votes. This set the governing structure of Podemos as having a Secretary General and a “People’s Council” of 71 elected directly by party members and an “Advisory Council” of 15 selected by the Secretary General from the members of the People’s Council.

Other constitutional rules adopted included recall mechanisms, term limits (up to 8 years in all political roles combined) and setting the pay of elected positions at “skilled worker’s wages”.

A competing proposition, supported by several Podemos MEPs, suggested that 20% of the People’s Council would be selected by sortition. The proposition won 12% of the votes. Carolina Bescansa, an associate of Iglesias, explained that the idea of sortition is “a mistake” and that

Contemporary mass democracy involves each person being entitled to elect those who hold institutional positions. […] Democracy is not just that anyone can be anything, but also has to do with all of us having the right to decide who carries what responsibility.”

6 Responses

  1. >The manifesto, however, doesn’t make any proposals for institutional changes that may change the oligarchical nature of the electoralist political system.

    So why should we be interested in it?


  2. Hola Yoram
    Por complementar tu post voy a hablar de algunos aspectos sobre Podemos.
    1/ El éxito electoral de Podemos en las elecciones europeas se produjo en un momento de indefinición en el cual el electorado pudo percibir que Podemos era más un movimiento social que un partido político al uso. Creo que esa percepción fue muy importante para generar la ilusión de que aparecía algo realmente nuevo en el horizonte político.
    2/ En el proceso de constitución como partido político hace unas pocas fechas esa percepción se ha frustrado al menos para el sector de Podemos más democrático. La cúpula del partido habla de horizontalidad y de democracia interna pero han diseñado una estructura totalmente vertical a la vieja usanza. Yo pienso que el actual eslogan de Podemos “Es la hora de la gente” deberían sustituirlo por “Es la hora de Pablo Iglesias” si tuviesen algún interés en establecer un relato coherente con la realidad.
    3/ El estándar democrático de los partidos políticos en España es bastante bajo. En Podemos el estándar democrático también es bajo pero han incorporado herramientas de participación y normas que hacen que la gente que participa viva una “ficción democrática”, en esencia porque el paradigma de la mayoría es identificar, en exclusiva, votación con democracia sin considerar la importancia de los procedimientos: sistema de votación elegido, listas, posibilidad real de analizar las candidaturas…etc. Los dirigentes de Podemos juegan con el imaginario de la gente que valora positivamente que un suceso pueda acontecer independientemente de que la probabilidad asociada a ese suceso sea tan baja que, en realidad, ese suceso no se producirá nunca. Excepto los ingenuos y los desinformados, que constituyen un sector muy numeroso, se saben los resultados de cualquier votación en Podemos anticipadamente por el mero hecho de conocer su diseño y a pesar de no disponer del inestimable apoyo de una o más encuestas de opinión. De todo esto que digo hay abundantes pruebas pero por resumir la poca democracia interna de Podemos baste con decir que el sistema de selección fue mayoritario puro en el que el vencedor lo gana todo lo cual significaría que, aplicado este sistema al Congreso de los diputados español, los 350 diputados serían en estos momentos del Partido Popular. La cúpula del partido aduce que la maquinaria electoral necesita de este tipo de estructuras.
    2/ El éxito actual en las encuestas sobre la intención de voto, desde mi punto de vista, está más relacionado con el desprestigio y la corrupción de los partidos políticos que por las propuestas de Podemos que es un partido sin errores y sin corrupción al no tener pasado político.
    4/ Con respecto del sorteo como opción dentro de la estructura organizativa se ha fracasado si solo considerásemos que no se ha conseguido que el Consejo Ciudadano de Podemos contase con un 20% de sus miembros seleccionados por sorteo. Sin embargo, se ha hecho una labor de difusión con el sorteo que puede ser inestimable aunque de difícil cuantificación. La cúpula de Podemos es meritocratica y el objetivo de Pablo Iglesias es “hacer el gobierno de los mejores” considerando que los mejores son las personas con una elevada cualificación que, de nuevo, nos van a decir cuál es la solución para nuestras vidas.


  3. Hi Tomas,

    Thanks for sharing your understanding of the political situation. What you write sounds very reasonable to me. I think there is a good chance that Podemos crashes before the upcoming elections. Some sort of an internal scandal, eagerly pounced upon by the mainstream press, can easily bring it down. But even if Podemos does make some electoral gains, it looks like its structure and processes are replicating the existing standards rather than providing an alternative so expecting a radical change is not realistic. As ever in electoralist politics, the rank and file members and voters of Podemos are quite likely in for a disappointment.

    As for the impact of the defeated proposal for using sortition, again I agree. This may have been the first time in modern politics that a non-negligible political party discussed a proposal to use sortition to nominate political officers (even if in a limited way). It is quite likely that thousands of people heard of the idea of sortition for the first time in this context and many of them gave it some thought including quite a few that decided to give it their support. The fact that Bescansa even bothered to dismiss the idea of sortition as an alternative to elections is in itself an achievement.

    All in all, very good news – not for Podemos or for the near future of Spain, but for the longer term future of democratic government.

    Tomas, if there is any way for you to get in touch with the supporters of sortition within Podemos (high profile ones like the MEPs or any of many of those who voted for the alternative proposal), I think it would be great to have some sort of an online video meeting with them to exchange ideas.


  4. PODEMOS is a big threat for traditional bipartisan system. They could win 2015 elections easily.


  5. oosorio,

    Yes, Podemos is a threat to the existing parties, but not to the system itself – not to the fundamentals of the political system: electoralism and the derived elitism, plutocracy, and exploitation of the average citizen. As long as electoralism is not rejected there is no reason to expect real change.


  6. […] highlighted the proposals for using sortition that were part of the constitutional process at Podemos – a party which emerged this year as a highly popular alternative to the established parties […]


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