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New Anti-Austerity Party Gathers Support In Spain

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Much of Europe is watching Greece closely after an anti-austerity party won elections there last weekend. And Spaniards are paying particular attention because Greece may be influential. A similar new political party - left-wing, anti-establishment - has formed in Spain over the past year. And polls show that it could win power in elections this fall. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)

PABLO IGLESIAS: I'm Pablo Iglesias from Podemos, and my message to the...

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The leader of Spain's newest political party is 36-year-old Pablo Iglesias, a former communist, now a political science professor with a ponytail. His party, barely a year old, is called Podemos, echoing Barack Obama's old yes, we can slogan.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.

FRAYER: Si, se puede. It's a refrain you hear at protest rallies across Spain, including at Madrid's Complutense University where Iglesias teaches.

JORGE IGUERA: He's really good at speaking. He gets you. I mean, his idea is different from the other guys.

FRAYER: Jorge Iguera is an 18-year-old marketing student, here with his classmate Hannah Emeki.

HANNAH EMEKI: He's like one of us. Like, his ideas are what we would talk about it. It's the kind of ideas - we say we need to change this, we need a change that. And that's what he's bringing to us. It's a change from the big parties that have been ruling at the moment.

FRAYER: Many Spaniards are disgusted by corruption in Spain's two main political parties - the conservatives and the socialists. They're also frustrated that while the economy here is growing, unemployment still tops 23 percent and double that for youth. Polls show voters are switching to Podemos. It promises to raise the minimum wage, hike taxes on the rich and re-evaluate whether Spain should pay its debts.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

FRAYER: Iglesias was in Athens last weekend dancing at a campaign rally with his friend Alexis Tsipras, who's since become the Greek prime minister. The two are leftist allies from the European Parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

IGLESIAS: First, we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

FRAYER: The crowd responded to Iglesias with cheers of first, we take Athens, then we take Madrid. On arrival home, he vowed to do just that.

IGLESIAS: We are very happy because the political force of change has win elections in Greece.

FRAYER: The politics of austerity don't work in Greece or in Spain, he continued. Unemployment, debt and inequality have only grown. The policies of the two main parties in Spain have only led to disaster, he said. Polls show as much as a third of Spanish voters plan to vote for Podemos - enough to unseat the ruling conservatives in elections this autumn.

WILLIAM CHISLETT: They're the only party that's capitalized on this anger. They've stunned the political class.

FRAYER: William Chislett at Madrid's Elcano think tank says Podemos is untested with no experience in power. It could roll back austerity and renege on agreements with Europe.

CHISLETT: If Greece gets a debt deal, who knows, Spain might get one as well. You kind of open a Pandora's box of everyone asking for a deal.

FRAYER: Podemos is planning a million man march for change across the Spanish capital this Saturday. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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