Around a quarter of a million people marched through Madrid on Saturday in a show of strength by the populist Podemos party.
Podemos supporters from across Spain converged around the Cibeles fountain before packing the avenue leading to Puerta del Sol square in what was the party’s largest rally to date.
Police said at least 100,000 people participated in the march while Podemos put the figure at 300,000.
Podemos aims to shatter the country’s predominantly two-party system and the March for Change gathered crowds in the same place where sit-in protests against political and financial corruption laid the party’s foundations in 2011.
The party hopes to emulate the success of Greece’s Syriza party in the Spanish general election later this year.
Its rise is due in part to party leader Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science professor.
“We want change,” he told the crowd. “This is the year for change and we’re going to win the elections.”
But the country’s establishment had other ideas.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he didn’t accept the bleak picture of Spain that Podemos propagated.
“They’re a sad bunch, who go around saying how badly things are going,” he said.
“They’re not going to win the elections.”
However, in only a year, Podemos has leap-frogged from being the dream of a handful of university professors and activists to a political party.
Opinion polls show the party could possibly take the No 1 spot in coming elections and thus trigger one of the biggest political shake-ups in Spain since democracy was restored in 1978.
This year, Spain holds elections in 15 of its 17 regions followed by general elections.
Podemos’s first battle will be in the socialist heartland of Andalusia in March, followed by regional and municipal elections in the ruling Popular Party stronghold of Madrid in May.
Podemos has often expressed its support for some of the policies of left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
In Europe, it supports Syriza and has closely identified with its current campaigns against austerity and for debt cancellation.
Photo: Andres Kudacki/AP