BARCELONA (AFP): Spain’s labour minister said on Sunday she would stand in a year-end general election as head of the far-left whose support Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will need to stay in office.
“Today I’m taking a step forward. I want to lead our country,” Yolanda Diaz told a political rally in Madrid.
Opinion polls consistently show Diaz, a deputy prime minister in Sanchez’s coalition government and lifelong member of the Communist party, is Spain’s most popular politician.
Largely unknown three years ago, the 51-year-old labour lawyer was thrust into the political spotlight in January 2020 when she entered the government as a representative of far-left party Podemos.
Sanchez’s Socialists have governed since January 2020 with Podemos, which has been losing support and members.
When former Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias quit politics in May 2021 following a regional election drubbing, he nominated Diaz to take over his post as deputy prime minister even though she is not a member of his party.
Iglesias and Diaz were close until in July 2022 she launched a new political movement called “Sumar” (“Add” in English), which aims to group all parties to the left of Sanchez’s Socialists.
Diaz has so far failed to win the support of Podemos for her election bid.
“There are lots of people to bring into the fold,” she acknowledged on Sunday.
She added she would continue talks to try and widen her political movement.
“We will be up to the task,” she said. “We will provide answers for our country, which is hungry for change.”
– Alliances –
Most surveys show Sanchez’ Socialists trailing the main opposition conservative Popular Party.
Even if the Socialists manage to close the gap, they will once again need the support of the far-left to form a working majority in parliament, opinion polls suggest.
Born in 1971 in Ferrol — a working class town in northwestern Spain that is also the birthplace of Spain’s former dictator, Francisco Franco — Diaz has solid left-wing credentials.
Her father was a key union leader and she became known for taking part in Communist Party meetings with her baby in her arms in the early 2010s.
She quickly made her mark after she joined Sanchez’s government thanks to her friendly demeanour and capacity for negotiation, which has even been praised by business leaders.
Diaz was responsible for a labour reform which is credited with a sharp fall in the number of temporary job contracts and a sharp rise in the minimum wage.
She also oversaw a generous job furlough scheme at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which ensured companies could keep workers, even when large parts of the economy were closed due to lockdowns.
Diaz, who frequently dresses in red, likes to recall the time Spain’s veteran Communist leader, Santiago Carrillo, kissed her hand when she was four years old.
Unlike many top Podemos party members who are quick to attack their Socialist partners, Diaz highlights her cordial ties with the prime minister.
Politics must be about “reaching out and then being able to reach agreements that change people’s lives, not about making noise and creating disorder,” she said last month.
That was seen as a thinly veiled criticism of Iglesias, who has been critical of her move away from Podemos.