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Pablo Iglesias tries to unite Podemos ahead of elections

Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias (Spanish Parliament)

Spain’s left-wing Podemos party has launched its campaign for next month’s elections with its leader Pablo Iglesias trying to reunite the party, whilst returning to the public eye after three months of paternity leave.

Long hailed as a beacon of success for the far-left after erupting in Spain five years ago, Iglesias, 40, also apologised to supporters for the infighting that has threatened to destroy the party.

‘I know I have disappointed a lot of people,’ Iglesias told a rally in front of the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid.

‘We have brought shame on ourselves with our infighting.’

Iglesias’s former right-hand man Íñigo Errejón announced in January he will run in regional elections in May as part of an open political platform instead of with Podemos, sparking an internal crisis.

Left-wing party Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (right), Irene Montero (middle) and Inigo Errejon (left) during the party congress at Vistalegre bullring in Madrid on 12 February 2017. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP)

The crisis deepened further with the surprise announcement by the party’s top candidate for the European Parliament elections in May, Pablo Bustinduy, that he would no longer run.

ALSO READ: As elections near, Spain’s Podemos on verge of split

Podemos’s internal bust-ups, combined with a scandal over Iglesias’s controversial decision to buy a 600,000 euro house near Madrid with his partner Irene Montero, Podemos’s number two, have cost the party support.

Spain votes in general elections on 28 April, and regional, local and European Parliament elections on 26 May. Yet polls show support for Podemos has now slumped.

Formed in 2014 and born from the protest movement that swept Spain during the financial crisis, the Podemos party established itself in parliament in 2015, vowing to fight corruption and economic inequality – and once looked set to become the country’s dominant left-wing force.

ALSO READ: Focus on Ciudadanos – ‘weather vane’ to ‘dangerous friendships’

Podemos once led the polls and nearly snatched the leadership of Spain’s left from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez‘s Socialists (PSOE) at the last general election in 2016.

It finished third, winning 71 seats in the 350-seat parliament, up from 69 seats in a December 2015 election when it first entered parliament.

But it could lose nearly half of its deputies in next month’s general election, according to an average of polls published in daily newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya.

The polls indicated the party would win just 38 seats. The Socialists (PSOE) would see their number of seats jump to 114 from just 84 in the outgoing assembly.

ALSO READ: Focus: Sánchez ‘rollercoaster’ and Spain’s ‘political instability’

The Socialists (PSOE) were swept into office after winning a surprise no-confidence motion against conservative leader Mariano Rajoy last year with the key support of Podemos.

In the upcoming election Podemos will now also face competition from new far-right party Vox, which is targeting disillusioned voters in the same working class urban districts that fuelled the rise of Podemos.

ALSO READ: Poll: far-right Vox would win 43-45 seats

The year started off badly for Podemos, with the split between Iglesias and Errejón.

‘There needs to be a greater effort to open up more,’ Errejón told news radio Cadena Ser on Monday. That was seen as a criticism of Iglesias’s highly centralised leadership style.

ALSO READ: Catalonia, the ‘electoral weapon’ in Andalusia

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