Podemos rally in Madrid
People filled Madrid's landmark Puerta del Sol as they gathered at a rally called by Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos, Jan. 31, 2015. Reuters/Sergio Perez

A rally in Madrid organized by Spanish left-wing party Podemos drew tens of thousands of people Saturday. The so-called March for Change was the biggest turnout yet for the anti-austerity party, which says it is seeking to unseat Spain’s political elite in elections this year, Reuters reported.

Podemos transported thousands of supporters in 260 buses across the country to attend the march in the center of the capital Saturday, the Guardian said.

Supporters at the rally waved Greek and Republican flags and chanted, “Yes, we can.” Rosa Diez, who founded Spain’s Union, Progress and Democracy party in 2007, told Europa Press last month that Podemos shares similarities with the Greek leftist party Syriza, which won a sweeping victory in Greece’s parliamentary election Jan. 25. After the Syriza triumph in Greece, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said, “Hope had been born,” BBC News reported.

“This is not about asking for anything from the government or protesting. It’s to say that in 2015 there will be a government of the people,” Iglesias said last month while announcing the March for Change rally, the Guardian reported. “We want a historic mobilization. We want people to be able to tell their children and grandchildren: ‘I was at the march on 31 January that launched a new era of political change in Spain.’”

In Greece, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who is popular among working-class Greeks, has pledged to ditch austerity, create jobs and renegotiate Greece’s €240 billion bailout with Europe’s central authorities, as BBC News noted. Tsipras promised five years of “humiliation and suffering” were over, and is already refusing to cooperate with international lenders.

Greece’s new leftist government refused to extend its bailout program Friday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel flatly declined a debt write-down Saturday, and the European Central Bank threatened to cut funding to Greek banks should the government not renew the bailout.

Syriza’s win in Greece galvanized supporters in Italy ahead of the presidential election, but not enough to unseat the country’s ruling majority. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi welcomed Saturday the newly elected Italian president, constitutional court judge and center-left politician Sergio Mattarella.

Podemos, which may be translated as “We Can,” has promised an audit of Spain’s debt, to increase the country's minimum wage and tax hikes on the rich. Spain has now officially emerged from a seven-year recession, but nearly one in four workers remain out of a job, Reuters reported.

The leftist party was formed in Spain last year, but has already had a meteoric rise in popularity, particularly in the wake of Syriza’s victory in Greece. Podemos won 1.2 million votes and five seats in the European parliament elections in May. The party is also leading in opinion polls ahead of local, regional and national elections, despite criticism in liberal and conservative media accusing its senior members of financial misconduct.

Maria Dolores de Cospedal, the deputy leader of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, compared Podemos with Venezuela’s left-wing leaders and its late President Hugo Chavez. “This kind of party, based on demagogy and populism ... is very dangerous for the system and democracy, for the Popular Party and for any political party,” de Cospedal told Agence France-Presse last month. “We know they are against everything. We don’t know what they are in favor of.”

Spain’s main opposition party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, has also criticized Podemos. “Populism has taken institutional form in Podemos,” opposition leader Pedro Sanchez told AFP. “We call them by their name. They are the ones who have to explain whether or not they defend the regime of Chavez and of Venezuela.”