Pablo Iglesias (L), leader of left-wing party Podemos, raises his fist during the second day of the party congress at Vistalegre bullring in Madrid on February 12, 2017 that saw him re-elected as general secretary
Madrid (AFP) - Supporters of Spain's Podemos party handed Pablo Iglesias a clear victory Sunday in a battle for the far-left party's direction, re-electing him as leader and backing his call to return to the streets as a protest movement.
More than 155,000 people voted in a party primary, putting an end to months of bitter divisions between Iglesias and his deputy over how to steer one of Europe's leading radical left parties.
Such were their differences that they morphed into party-wide in-fighting, threatening to seriously weaken a party that managed to harness the anger of millions stung by Spain's economic woes and rise at meteoric speed to national-level politics.
Born in 2014 out of the Indignados protest movement that swept Spain during a severe economic crisis, Podemos, an ally of Greece's Syriza, went on to win millions of votes in two elections to become the country's third party.
"The wind of change continues to blow," Iglesias shouted Sunday in the Vistalegre concert arena in Madrid to a cheering crowd of thousands, standing on a stage flanked by large purple flags, the colour of Podemos.
As the vote results were read out on the second day of a party congress, the crowd shouted "yes we can" and "unity", applauding and shouting in a deafening roar.
More than 89 percent of those who cast their ballot in a week-long, online vote backed Iglesias as secretary general, while 56 percent endorsed his vision for Podemos.
They also picked a large majority of the candidates he proposed for the party's leadership council.
- 'Clarity' at last -
Buoyed by promises of radical change for a more egalitarian society, Podemos won 71 seats in parliament in 2016 as part of a wider leftwing coalition.
But it soon found itself at a crossroads that divided its pony-tailed chief and his deputy and once close friend Inigo Errejon, creating a rift over how to achieve the goal of replacing the Socialists as the main opposition and eventually taking power.
Should Podemos activists and supporters take to the streets again in droves as an anti-establishment group -- as well as work for change from within parliament -- as wanted by Iglesias?
Or should it shed an "enfant terrible" image that may be scaring away voters now that it has become a credible political force, and work purely from within parliament as Errejon proposed?
In the end, activists made the final decision.
"It's good because we now have clarity," Podemos co-founder and lawmaker Carolina Bescansa told AFP.
Claudia Otero, a 21-year-old student, concurred.
"It seemed to me that the Vistalegre congress was going to be the beginning of the end, like the Titanic sinking, but I think we are going home calmer and more united," she said.
- Time to move on? -
Iglesias, 38, had been almost assured of being re-elected given he was only up against a low-profile lawmaker, but his list of candidates for the leadership council met with stiff competition.
Errejon, who is 33, had presented his own list, as had others.
But Iglesias had pledged that if his list was rejected, he would step aside, precipitating another crisis for the party.
"Pablo won by threatening to leave," complained Tristan Duanel, a 30-year-old unemployed Podemos activist, disappointed at the recent display of in-fighting.
The new leadership council is composed of a majority of those on Iglesias's list, even if some of Errejon's team are also included, including the number two himself.
On Sunday, Iglesias hugged each of the new members of the council on stage.
He took an extra minute to embrace Errejon, who gave a weak smile.
Iglesias and Errejon have pledged that come what may, it will be business as usual for Podemos from Monday, putting divisions firmly behind them.
Daniel Montero, a 36-year-old supporter of Iglesias, said he hoped this would be the case.
"I think that Inigo Errejon is the most intelligent person in the party," he said of the bespectacled Podemos deputy.
"It would be a shame if he bowed out."