MADRID (AP) – Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Madrid on Saturday in a show of strength by a fledgling radical leftist party, which hopes to emulate the success of Greece’s Syriza party in the Spanish general election later this year.
Podemos supporters from across Spain converged around the Cibeles fountain Saturday before packing the avenue leading to Puerta del Sol square in what was the party’s largest rally to date.
State broadcaster TVE said that hundreds of thousands were at the march, but no official attendance figures were provided.
Podemos (“We Can”) aims to shatter the country’s predominantly two-party system and the “March for Change” gathered crowds in the same place where sit-in protests against political and financial corruption laid the party’s foundations in 2011.
The party’s rise is greatly due to the charisma of its pony-tailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science professor.
Hailing from the Madrid working class neighbourhood of Vallecas, Iglesias prefers jeans and rolled up shirt sleeves to a suit and tie and champions slogans such as Spain is “run by the butlers of the rich” and that the economy must serve the people. “We want change,” Iglesias told the crowd. “This is the year for change and we’re going to win the elections.” Speaking at a meeting in Barcelona, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he didn’t accept the bleak picture of Spain that Podemos propagated.
“They’re a sad bunch, who go around saying how badly things are going,” he said, giving them no chance of winning the elections. “They’re not going to do it.”
Senior Podemos member Rita Maestre told The Associated Press that their aim was to show that the party is the instrument for change.
“We called the demonstration in the hope of lighting the torch (flame).”