Local elections across Spain on Sunday saw the further rise of left-wing parties and candidates as an ongoing populist push from below resulted in the worst performance of the ruling People's Party in a generation.
Fueled by the street-level support that began with the indignados movement in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and other recent successes by the newly-formed Podemos party at the national level, Sunday's municipal elections revealed Spanish voters continue to be compelled by the anti-austerity and pro-democracy agenda of the left. Demanding a new economic and political vision, an assortment of left-leaning and more centrist parties have now put a serious dent in the hold on power currently enjoyed by the PP-controlled government and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
"This spring of change is irreversible," said Pablos Iglesias, head of Podemos Party on Sunday night. "We will take up the challenge of winning the [parliamentary] elections against the Popular Party."
The New York Times notes that while the PP won the most votes overall, the ruling party is "set to lose its parliamentary majorities in most, if not all, of the country’s provinces." If, as expected, the various left-wing parties can form coalitions with one another, they may have the ability to unseat the conservatives in key areas, including in the nation's two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona.
As the EU Observer reports:
The biggest changes have been the move towards the new left parties in Barcelona and maybe also in Madrid - depending on a possible pact between a Podemos-supporting coalition called Ahora Madrid and the Social Democrats (PSOE).
It would be the first time the Spanish capital would have a leftwing Mayor in the last 25 years.
"It is clear that a majority for change has won," said Manuela Carmena, the 71 year-old emeritus judge of the Spanish Supreme Court who wants to become Madrid’s new mayor.
She is one seat short of Madrid’s former conservative Mayor Esperanza Aguirre. However, with the support of Social Democrats – who came third - the left-wing parties could together hold the absolute majority in Madrid.
Barcelona’s new Mayor Ada Colau calls for “more social justice” and leads a coalition of left-wing parties and citizens' organisations called 'Barcelona en Comú,' which includes members of Podemos.
"We are proud that this process hasn’t just been an exception in Barcelona, this is an unstoppable democratic revolution in Catalonia, in [Spain] and hopefully in southern Europe," Colau said last night after it became clear that she had won a small majority in the Catalan capital.
Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, was one of the founders of a platform for people affected by mortgages - Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) - which won the European Parliament’s European Citizens’ Prize in 2013.
The PAH was set up in response to the hike in evictions caused by abusive mortgage clauses during the collapse of the Spanish property market eight years ago. Colau herself entered politics last year calling for "more and better democracy" and a clean-up of corruption in politics.
“It is the end of bipartisanship,” Podemos leader and MEP Pablo Iglesias said on Sunday. "May this Spring bring us flying to November," he added on Twitter, referring to the Spanish general election.
Following her victory in Barcelona, Ms. Colau raised her fist in victory and told supporters, "We have shown you can do politics in another way." And added, "Ordinary people, who normally don’t have any power, had a historic opportunity and used it. Congratulations."
According to the Guardian:
With general elections due by the end of the year, Sunday’s elections in 13 regions and more than 8,100 municipalities were widely seen as a chance to test the mood of Spanish voters. The message that emerged was clear, with Spaniards voting to end the two-party dominance that has characterised Spanish politics since the death of Franco. With 90% of the vote counted in Sunday’s elections, the PP and the Socialists had taken 52% of the nationwide vote, a significant drop from the 65% the two mainstream parties earned in elections four years ago.
While the PP was the most voted party in nine regions, it failed to obtain any absolute regional majorities. Many voters, unconvinced of the party’s message of an economic rebound and fed up of austerity, sky high unemployment and a constant barrage of corruption scandals, turned instead to anti-austerity party Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos.
The national newcomers came in third or fourth place across most regions, suggesting they will hold the balance of power in many regional governments. “We would have liked the decline of the old parties to have been quicker,” said Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias. “But circumstances compel us to keep working on it.”
As Spanish politics widens into a four-way race, the shifting landscape means coalitions and compromises between parties will be necessary to govern. The process will get underway in the coming weeks, and negotiations could be months in the making.