With anti-austerity groups topping the polls in local elections, Spanish political culture is dramatically changing as Spain's two dominant parties suffered their worst ever election results, making a coalition likely
By voting in local elections for upstart parties that vow to fight corruption and the economic downturn, Spain faces dramatic changes in its political culture with a coalition in regional governments and city halls. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party suffered huge losses in Sunday's regional and local polls ahead of a year-end general election, and the main opposition Socialist party failed to capitalize on its adversary's weakness. The two parties, which have alternated in government for nearly four decades, captured a combined 52 percent of the vote nationwide, down from 65 percent four years ago.
They lost support to new upstart parties, the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, which went national in 2013, and the anti-austerity Podemos, an ally of Greece's Syriza, which was set up last year. Podemos came in third in 12 of the 13 Spanish regions that voted on Sunday alongside more than 8,000 towns and cities, boosted by its promise to fight economic inequality and corruption. Ciudadanos came in third in municipal elections, the first time it has fielded mayoral candidates.
Although the conservative People's Party (PP) won the most votes overall, the rise of the upstart parties meant it lost its majorities in powerful regional governments and city halls across the country, its worst result in 20 years. "It is time to reflect. The party is badly hit. ... For sure, we are going the wrong way. We are the party that won the most votes but voters sent us a message of anger," said a senior PP member who attended a meeting of the PP's executive committee on Monday and declined to be named. "We have not seriously been self-critical. ... Something is not working and we have to properly diagnose what," he added.
In big cities like Madrid and Barcelona citizens' platforms backed by Podemos, which was born out of the "Indignado" (Outraged) protests that swamped Spanish streets during the years of the recent economic crisis, are set to take power.
In Barcelona, Ada Colau, who became a household name in Spain after she led a movement against housing evictions during the economic crisis, won 11 of the 41 seats on the municipal assembly, beating the incumbent, conservative Catalan separatist Xavier Trias.
Colau said Monday she would favor the Socialists and two Catalan separatist parties, the leftist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party and the far-left Popular Unity Candidates (CUP) party, when seeking accords.
"This does not mean that we cannot have occasional agreements on key issues" with other parties, she added.
Ahora Madrid, a citizens' platform that backed an ex-communist retired judge for mayor, won 20 seats on the Madrid municipal assembly, just one less than the Popular Party, which has governed the Spanish capital for over two decades.
The leader of the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE) at the national level, Pedro Sanchez, said his party would ensure that "progressive governments" emerged from the local elections.
"We are seeing a fascinating evolution that could lead to an update of the political system, which is more plural just as Spanish society is more diverse," said Narciso Michavila, who heads the GAD3 polling firm.
Three-quarters of Spanish voters, 76 percent, would prefer to see the Popular Party and the PSOE share power with other parties at the national level, according to a recent Metroscopia poll.
"Citizens are ready for this new politics of negotiation, of pacts, of agreements, those who appear not to be ready for it are politicians," said Juan Toharia, the head of Metroscopia.
Spain has little tradition of compromise politics and the results of the polls will likely lead to weeks of negotiations. "In Spain, the one who captures the most votes feels he is entitled to govern, even without an absolute majority," said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, senior fellow and head of the Madrid office of the European Council of Foreign Relations. Even Spain's new parties seem to have a hard time adapting to the new approach.
The leader of Podemos, political science Professor Pablo Iglesias, has set as its target as winning the next general election.
The head of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, on Monday said: "The age of absolute majorities is over," and insisted on the need for agreements between parties.
But at the same time he ruled out entering into coalitions that his party would not lead.
The difficulty that parties will have in reaching pacts can already be seen in Spain's most populous region, Andalusia, which held its parliamentary elections in March.
Two months later the PSOE candidate who won the most votes still has not been able to persuade the other parties to let her govern with a minority in the regional assembly.
Jose Fernandez-Albertos, a political scientist at state research institute CSIC, said he "did not rule out at all the possibility that certain regions will have to call fresh elections due a failure to reach an agreement on forming a government."
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