MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos rallied on Wednesday in response to the prime minister’s state-of-the-nation address, delivered a day earlier to a parliament in which the new leftist movement still has no seats.
Pablo Iglesias, leader of the one-year-old “We Can” party, said it was the real opposition to Spain’s center-right government, as he addressed hundreds of supporters crammed into a theater a few meters from the congress building in Madrid.
“There was a need for the opposition to respond to the government, that’s why we are here,” said 36-year-old Iglesias, a pony-tailed former political scientist whose political stance and surging popularity have drawn comparisons with Greece’s new Syriza rulers.
Among the measures Iglesias said he would implement if he became prime minister in the general election due by the end of the year are a restructuring of the country’s debt and a new tax on wealth.
Without once referring directly to Podemos in his speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy nonetheless took swipes at rivals promising “magic remedies” and sought to portray himself as a safe pair of hands steering Spain to economic recovery.
The growth of parties like Podemos is a sign of the creeping fragmentation of Spain’s decades-old two-party system, analysts say.
Upstart parties without so much as a seat in parliament increasingly push policy debates outside its walls.
The new center-right Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), led by 35-year-old lawyer Albert Rivera, is also gaining in polls and could chip away at support for Rajoy’s People’s Party as it touts its credentials as a party untainted by corruption scandals.
“It’s good for Spain that the parties that have not yet entered (parliament) are already making a mark on the country’s political and economic agenda,” Rivera said on Wednesday.
“We see a government that is nervous and thinking more about attacking others than explaining what it has done.”
Helping the cause of Podemos and Ciudadanos is a growing desire among Spaniards for an overhaul of the country’s political structures.
“The economy, which triggered people’s disaffection, has become a secondary issue behind that of the very political system,” said Fernando Vallespin, political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
Editing by Julien Toyer and Andrew Roche