American progressives distressed about the prospect of being offered a choice this fall between a right-wing billionaire and a one-time corporate lawyer on the board of Wal-Mart, might look to Spain for a reminder that left-wing leaders with principles and charisma do still exist.
In Madrid on Wednesday, Pablo Iglesias, the 37-year-old leader of Podemos, an anti-austerity party formed just two years ago, blocked the center-left Socialist Party’s attempt to form a centrist coalition government and demonstrated a flair for political theater that galvanized his supporters on social networks.
During an impassioned speech to parliament, Iglesias said that his radical left party, which is now Spain’s third largest, would not allow the “miserable” leader of the more mainstream Socialists, Pedro Sánchez, to become prime minister because he had adopted the economic policies of the right.
The debate in parliament was closely watched on social networks, and the Podemos leader then made his opposition to the proposed government even more clear by leaping from his seat to congratulate a Catalan ally who also spoke against it with a bear hug and a kiss on the lips.
That image, of Iglesias kissing the Catalan representative Xavier Domènech, was both celebrated and mocked in Twitter memes, as his supporters rejoiced at the sight of the two men kissing directly in front of deputies from the conservative People’s Party — which recently tried and failed to ban gay marriage in Spain — and his detractors evoked comparisons to Soviet-era kisses between the leaders of communist states.