Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Podemos Power Struggles

When you are a new political entity, you can probably expect to encounter the odd teething trouble, and so it is with Podemos in Mallorca. First there was the resignation of one of the steering committee (or citizens' council to give it its proper name) in Palma. This was attributed to "personal reasons" but it has been suggested that it was all to do with some form of power struggle within a body that is barely a month old and also with notions of "traditional political practices". It is hard not to feel that these traditional practices have been quickly discovered by Podemos in Palma. A power struggle and citing personal reasons; it all sounds very familiar. It could just as easily be the Partido Popular.

Following the local difficulty in Palma, we move onto Pollensa, a town bedevilled by its proliferation of political parties and factions, and to which we now have to add the Podemos element. Its ten-person citizens' assembly, considerably smaller than the 34 who make up Palma's council, had voted Martí Cifre to be its secretary-general, though the vote was not overwhelming: five in favour, five abstained. Only a short while later and the assembly decided unanimously that Cifre's post should be revoked. He is far from happy and has said he will take the matter to court. It doesn't appear that there were personal reasons in Pollensa but instead a fear that Cifre had already started to use the Podemos name and connection for personal interest and for interests of certain businesspeople. Yes, all very familiar, if this indeed was what had been happening. It is rather depressing that a Podemos-ite should see fit to go to court. It is there, in court, where so much of Spain's politics end up. Alternatively though, it is reassuring to learn that a Podemos-ite has confidence in the legal system.

Are these two examples symptomatic of understandable teething troubles for a political entity which is fluid in its nature and in its policies? In Palma, the problem does seem to have been due in part to differences in perspective, but both of them highlight what is almost an inevitable consequence for a new political formation - the battle for power. Cifre in Pollensa has said that the Podemos assembly "wants to have power without going to the ballot box". It's not clear what he means by this, but the mere mention of the power word gives the game away.

A point that needs to be made about these councils or assemblies or whatever they call them is that members ("the politicians") cannot have previously been a member of another established party. One of those who supposedly has been involved in the power struggle in Palma has ceased to go to the Podemos national assembly (he is the only Balearic member of this assembly) because he was once included on the list for candidates of the old Unió Mallorquina in Banyalbufar. He had also been a councillor, which was ok in that he had been an independent: it was the one-time inclusion on the UM list, although he wasn't actually a member, that is the issue.

Not being tainted by and not having been involved in established politics is central to the Podemos narrative, but it does give rise to suspicions that some will view Podemos as a springboard for ambition. Power, personal power that is, is a contradiction to the Podemos philosophy, and yet it is bound to be an influence, and power, as the maxim has it, "tends to corrupt".

Other cases, like those in Palma and Pollensa, seem almost unavoidable as members of the local organisations jockey for position. In one sense, it is no bad thing if differences are aired, but when these differences lead someone to consider going to court, then you wonder what sort of beast has been unleashed. The very nature of Podemos is that there isn't a central discipline and in its absence there is the potential for a chaotic thrashing-around of ideologies, interpretations and personal interests at local levels.

Pablo Iglesias had once intimated that Podemos wouldn't participate in municipal elections. The growing force that it has become has persuaded him otherwise, but the technologically switched-on, online democracy of citizen participation that it represents might not be quite so achievable right at local levels where personal interests, even among those signed up to the Podemos philosophy, have an unfortunate habit of coming into play. This said, they can be avoided, and Pollensa gives an example of this. The Alternativa per Pollença is a party of transparency and of an endless seeking after the truth and of the possibly irregular. In a way, you wonder why Pollensa needs Podemos. The Alternativa has been doing its work for them. But this is the nature of politics, even for new political entities. Power.

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