Spain to the polls: bye bye two-parties system, welcome alliances, preferably leftist
At the expense of the incumbent Popular Party, Podemos and Ciudadanos thrive disrupting the Iberian political scene.
- Tuesday, 26 May 2015
The campaign that set off de facto many months ago has been a first timer in many ways. To begin with, the two emerging parties, Podemos and Ciudadanos, won at the expense of the Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy, which loses shy of 11 points compared to 2011, while still obtaining the most votes.
Everybody agrees that this was the most exciting campaign in recent years, because its outcome was not predetermined, and the parties involved were for the first time four instead of the two traditional ones since 1982, the Socialist Party and PP.
Nervousness and fear for the end of a two-party system were justified. Madrid and Barcelona were considered the coup de grace, and that is how it was. Barcelona went to Ada Colau, leader of a coalition, Barcelona en Comú, formed by various leftist organizations, among which Izquierda Unida (United Left) and new entry Podemos.
In Madrid, Podemos' candidate gained 20 seats against the 21 obtained by Esperanza Aguirre of PP, but Aguirre will not take seat on the mayor's chair unless Manuela Carmena's coalition, supported by Podemos, decides not to partner with the Socialists.
Recurring was also the case of Madrid's City Council. Whether the Populares' candidate would be the winner was undecided until the very last minute, when she earned the last seat that will allow PP to govern together with emerging Ciudadanos. Many critical constituencies, like Valencia, where the ruling party came in too low from an absolute majority, are handling the power over to a bloc on the left formed by PSOE, Podemos and others. An alliance of PP with Ciudadanos will not do in these cases.
Castilla-La Mancha was another key constituency, because PP's candidate is also the secretary general of the Party. Here too, due to a single seat, the Socialists will govern in alliance with Podemos.
One of the big unknowns of this nerve-wracking campaign, i.e. if the emerging parties would manage to depose the two traditional parties from their hegemonic positions, was resolved anticipating new dynamics for the general elections to be held in November.
An era of absolute majorities came to an end, and one of alliances with two parties almost unheard of a year ago begins. Moreover, as Rita Maestre, the second ranking female leader of Podemos, told us, her party's effort "is geared at heading the government, and not just at being a testimonial force."
Podemos and Ciudadanos hit their strategy right by deciding to ally with local organizations, such as Ada Colau's movement against evictions in Barcelona, to allow them to concentrate all efforts on the general elections. Now both parties are essential to ensure governability in many important municipal and regional councils.
This was Ciudadanos' first time. Albert Rivera's progressive and social democratic liberalism aimed at an end of "absolute majorities to force parties to dialogue," as he told reporters on the eve of Election Day at a hotel in Madrid. The 40-year-old charismatic leader attracted many voters with a narrative less radical than that of Podemos, despite a call to "regenerate" politics by putting in office "people born in democracy", that is, after 1975.
Rivera softened this message later, but the age of candidates and voters was nonetheless an important element in the campaign: only one in four voters is less than 30 years old. Traditional parties therefore focused their efforts on the over 55s. Families of unemployed and those hit by the crisis, as well as young people, among which unemployed tops 52%, are two groups that have actively been resisting the austerity rules imposed by Rajoy. Both were handed over to the emerging parties and to Psoe to a certain degree.
People didn't buy Pp's narrative of a country that grows faster than other European countries, and that did its homework. As Rita Maestre anticipated, even if you could speak of results of the austerity policies, these didn't trickle down to the worse off, nor showed up in social indicators. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, said the day after Election Day on the radio that "those who applied budget cuts will have to reverse course by 180°."
Corruption in local governments was another blow for PP, and Iglesias already announced "zero tolerance" with corruption as a condition for future alliances.
In its own way, the Socialist Party came out not as bad as feared, and it even gained some absolute majorities in cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants. It will depend however on alliances with Podemos or others to govern in many constituencies.
Generally speaking, the end of absolute majorities is now forcing Spanish parties "for the first time, to really make an effort to responsibly build political alliances," said Roberto Blanco, professor of Constitutional law at the University in Santiago de Compostela. After such a serious economic crisis, people grew tired of corruption, of the special prerogatives of the ruling parties and of the "caste", which Podemos defines as those parts of the private sector that thrived thanks to procurements with the State. The Spaniards decided that from now on they want politics and all political maneuvering to happen "under the spotlight".
Extrapolating pure results is complex because of the many alliances, but according to a projection of the data of the new political map, had this elections been general ones, PP would have 135 seats compared to its 186 today, PSOE would get to 116 - 6 more than their current ones, Podemos would be the third force with 16 seats, followed by Catalan Convergència i Unió with 15, Ciudadanos with 10 and United Left with its current 11. That is definitely a new political rainbow.
The Spanish vote has its own importance for the periphery countries: radical changes do not mean disrupting systems as a whole, but are without doubt a categorical call to politicians to get serious, sit down to negotiate, and respect the will of the majority.