It’s a sad, gloomy, play-Careless-Whisper-on-repeat day for the Democrats after receiving a veritable trouncing in this year’s midterm elections. In one attempt to cheer the left up, the Huffington Post is highlighting successful leftist parties around the world–parties that are succeeding by cannibalizing their countries’ equivalent of the Democratic Party.
The Huffington Post’s Charlotte Alfred urges Democrats not to cry too much, for the rest of the world appears to be moving more leftward than the United States. To inspire hope in the future of the Democratic Party, she turns to four countries: international economic punchlines Spain and Greece; underpopulated socialist paradise Sweden; and Chile, a nation whose economic resurgence is almost entirely attributable to right-wing, American-allied rule.
What’s more, the parties that Alfred highlights, particularly in Spain and Greece, are radical leftist parties that have snowballed in popularity, thanks to a massive backlash against those countries’ moderate left socialist parties. Alfred notes this with some subtlety, stating, “Some of these successes represented a backlash against policies of the political right” [true in Chile]; others a total skepticism with politics as usual on both sides of the aisle [wildly untrue in Spain and Greece].”
Alfred’s Spanish example is the far-left party Podemos, which means, “We Can.” Podemos is a party organized around a protest group called “Los Indignados,” meaning “The Indignants”–roughly the Spanish equivalent of the Occupy movement. Except in a parliamentary system, the Occupy folks organized and built a party. A party that, Alfred notes with glee, appears poised to take a whopping 27% of legislative seats in Madrid. Rather than being bad news for the nation’s right-wing party, the Popular Party (PP), Podemos has eaten away at the little support the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) still had after the disastrous rule of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Spanish newspaper ABC notes that the PSOE–the Spanish equivalent to the Democratic Party–is in “alarm” mode, given the recent surge in popularity of Podemos. “The socialists could be relegated to a more minor role, in third place, at a time when they were hoping for a resurgence under new Secretary General Pedro Sánchez,” the paper explains. Another poll inspiring fear in the PSOE is a latest public trust poll finding that only 15.5% of Spaniards have “much confidence” or “some confidence” in Sánchez. While Podemos also concerns leaders of the PP, the radically different ideologies mean that Podemos is not an existential threat to the PP as it is to the PSOE.
So Spain’s message to the Democrats is, essentially, “Don’t worry; in a few years, a radical leftist party will render you obsolete.”
The message is not wildly dissimilar to that of Greece’s, where socialist darling Alexis Tsipras is catapulting the far-left group SYRIZA to electoral success. SYRIZA–an acronym for “Coalition of the Radical Left”–is a group that has risen to prominence as an alternative to PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement. PASOK is so far left that its last president in power, George Papandreou, served double duty as the head of the Socialist International. SYRIZA is making gains by running to the left of the mainstream Greek socialists.
Greece’s politics are so far left that the latest polls show PASOK only receiving 4.1% of the vote. (In “defense” of Greece’s right wing, Golden Dawn, a violent national socialist party, is beating PASOK in the polls). SYRIZA garnered 26.4% support in this latest poll, trouncing the other parties, as well as other contenders that include the Greek Communist Party. (They are ahead of PASOK, too). New Democracy, the center-right party, is in second place with 21.1% of the vote.
SYRIZA knows it is having a moment, which is why Tsipras, the party leader, is pushing for parliamentary elections as soon as possible. “We request that political leaders meet immediately to agree on a date for national elections, before the presidential vote and before new binding deals are signed with the lenders, to give–in an orderly and coordinated way–people the sovereign right of deciding,” Tsipras demanded after a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.
While it remains to be seen whether such an election occurs, SYRIZA continues to do its best to find a way to somehow worsen the woeful Greek economy, this week opposing new money-lending proposals that could potentially stave off a bankruptcy.
But we digress. The argument here is not about whether SYRIZA–or Podemos, or Michelle Bachelet’s Socialist Party–are good for their respective countries. It is about whether the success of their parties bodes well for Democrats as they lick their wounds. And the clear answer to that question, if PASOK or the PSOE have anything to say about it, is “no.”