Spain's Podemos Forms Election Alliance with Far-Left Party


Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos has formed an alliance with its smaller far-left rival Izquierda Unida to run together in June 26 elections, boosting the chances they will become the nation's main opposition group.

The preliminary agreement to stand together in the repeat polls was being submitted to party members for final approval in a referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday, although the details of the deal still must be ironed out.

A successful Podemos-IU alliance could alter the power balance between the right and left if the Socialists -- the current main opposition group -- finally agree to govern with them after the election.

Podemos, which was founded in 2014 and is close to Greece's ruling Syriza party, and Izquierda Unida (IU), a communist-green party, called the agreement "historic."

"We have agreed on what is essential: we will run together in the elections to win them, and I suspect our members and those of IU will react to this historic opportunity with enthusiasm," Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said Tuesday in a radio interview.

Iglesias, a 37-year-old pony-tailed politics professor, and the leader of IU, telegenic 30-year-old Alberto Garzon, posted a video on social media sites announcing their tentative deal late Monday.

In the video the two men hug in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, where Spain's "Indignado" protest movement against corruption and economic inequality was born five years ago.

Based on the results of an inconclusive December 20 general election, an alliance between the two parties could relegate the Socialists, long the voice of Spain's left, to third place.

The Socialists came in second in the December ballot behind the ruling conservative Popular Party, winning 5.5 million votes, giving them 90 seats in Spain's 350-seat parliament.

Podemos and its allies came in third with 5.18 million votes and 69 seats while IU got over 900,000 votes, but just two seats.

But all polls carried out since the elections have pointed to a fall in support for Podemos and a rise in IU voters.

- 'Radicals and extremists' -

Just last year Iglesias dismissed IU as the "Grouchy Smurf" of Spain's left. He scuttled an agreement with the far-left party claiming it brings "bad luck," frightening voters with a program he judged to be too radical.

"To govern, we will need the Socialists. We want an agreement with the Socialists," Iglesias said.

December's vote put an end to Spain's traditional two-party system as voters fed up with austerity and corruption scandals flocked to new groups, resulting in a hung parliament.

The four parties were unable to agree on a governing coalition, leading King Felipe to call fresh elections, Spain's first repeat poll since the country returned to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The Socialists were tasked by the king to form a coalition after acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy -- whose conservative Popular Party (PP) won 123 seats -- gave up trying to form a government for lack of support.

The Socialists were suspicious of Podemos, which launched ceaseless attacks and openly aspired to become Spain's main opposition party, so they negotiated a pact with centrist upstart Ciudadanos which won 40 seats.

But the Socialists and Ciudadanos, which together had just 130 seats, were unable to win a confidence vote in the 350-seat parliament.

Rajoy has already warned of the dangers of a tie-up of "radicals and extremists" while a spokesman for his PP called the Podemos-IU pact "a sort of association between Communist Cuba and populist Venezuela."

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said that by allying itself with IU, Podemos "can not talk about being a force of change of new politics."

"It makes it easier for us," added Rivera whose party competed with Podemos for the youth vote.

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