As we draw closer to the May 2nd deadline and the scenario of electoral repetition becomes more probable, rumors about a possible combined candidacy of Podemos and IU have grown in tandem—to the extent that there are those who take it for granted, while others deny it has been signed. In short, there is an opening. While nothing is confirmed or announced, it is premature to predict the electoral effects of such a movement (which, in any case, we can only do with polling that contemplates such a candidacy). It is not too early, however, to ask the following: On what would the success or failure of a similar union depend? Although much is beyond the control of the parties, there is one thing that still remains to be worked out: the specific means of an accord, internal and external.
Let’s start from the inside. As we know, in Spain the electoral lists are closed systems which fall under the purview of the party apparatus. Recently, there have been primary elections with mixed results (inasmuch as the primary process is arduous and the control remains with the organization’s leadership, which defines the rules and times of these elections). The experience of Podemos and their confluences has been marked by mixed discipline. What would happen with IU which has a more consolidated and established base, both organizationally and ideologically? Would there be primaries? And quotas for each organization? How would this be translated into a post-electoral world? Would they be separate or united in parliament? What would be their negotiation strategy and agenda? We already saw what happened with Compromís in the last moment, as well as the certain differences of political tone between the national party leadership and the mareas. All of these factors would converge with a brand-new formation. It is not clear whether they could tie together all of the loose ends before the final whistle, which is why a possible accord would have deliberately ambiguous aspects that could turn against them in the campaign, or after the elections. Moreover, what would the current confluences of Podemos decide? Will they be content to share space with IU? What terms will be part of the agreement, and which ones will be left out? All of this does not take into account that IU, itself, is a coalition and various leaders of the internal parties have, more or less, taken explicit positions in favor or against the possible agreement. Compromís, another coalition, was under pressure before signing in extremis with Podemos. We should not expect for IU it will be smooth sailing.
This configuration is also important for the image that the combined candidacy will project. The proposed coalition will end up in between two extremes: first, a leftist front (Podemos+IU, literally), which is a logical union of two similar forces. The other extreme, is a kind of wager for change— what is now called a “marea”—including other organizations on equal terms and even candidates from civil society, not political parties. Each extreme has its costs and benefits. The option of a unified leftist front guarantees an electoral (and post-electoral) machinery with greater cohesion, more controllable and better articulated, with the matters resolved (or deferred) by the leadership. At the same time, the coalition would occupy a more clearly defined ideological space: namely, to the left of PSOE. While many see Podemos to the left of IU, the truth is that a vote for the former aims for a wider electorate than the vote for the latter. Thus, Iglesias’s formation has more potential to reach towards the center, robbing votes from PSOE. This capacity to moderate is damaged by an excessively unified front. In contrast, a more diluted marea can increase, and not decrease, this wide electoral scope. However, the organizational cost is clear. By having to unify many sensibilities under one umbrella candidacy, we return to the basic questions of the coalition’s internal structure: who is in charge, and how will they distribute their roles after the election.
To sum up, when discussing an agreement between Podemos and IU, the parties are confronted with a dilemma, to prioritize ideology and structure, or to give greater weight to electoral profits, at the cost of diluting their platform. Even if this dilemma is resolved at a halfway point, questions will remain about who will (and how to) enjoy the expected dividends. Iglesias and Garzon are not the only ones with a voice, since both must convince their respective internal allies that the accord would be better than going into the elections alone. Thus, before calculating the number of possible parliamentary seats, we should pay attention to the final form of a future agreement, if it materializes. The leaders of both formations know this much better than we do, which is why the negotiations will, most likely, be so laborious.
Translated by Mike Presiado.