The local elections which took place in Spain on Sunday 24th May brought in a dramatic change of the country’s political landscape, with the dominance of the two establishment parties destroyed in many areas of the country amid an upsurge of support for smaller and newer parties.
The change in voting patterns means that coalitions are now required to form new local governments in many areas of Spain, including large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona where the new anti austerity Podemos party and Ciudadanos party are set to be the ‘kingmakers’ and control the formation of many local assemblies.
The result has been seen by many as an expression of discontent with the economic policies of the current Spanish national government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the People’s Party (PP) which is currently in power has used austerity based policies to attempt to repair the economy amid fears that Spain could default on its debts. The Spanish economy does seem to be undergoing some degree of recovery – figures released in January showed the sharpest drop in unemployment in the country since the adoption of the Euro in 1999.
However, the party has paid a heavy price for this in the polls with its vote share dropping below 50% for the first time in an election since 1977. The other traditionally dominant party and current opposition in parliament, the PSOE, which is traditionally viewed as a socialist party has also suffered heavy losses.
Podemos, the party which has seen one of the biggest growths in popularity, grew out of the ant-corruption protests which took place in Spain between 2011 and 2012. The party calls for an end to austerity measures and the introduction of a basic guaranteed income for all citizens, as well as considering modifying or revoking the Treaty of Lisbon, a document which includes many of the constitutional principles of the EU. It has grown at such a rate since its inception that it has now become the second largest political party in terms of members behind the People’s Party. The leader of the party, Pablo Iglesias, described the result as ‘the end of traditional politics in Spain’. A poll conducted by the Sociological Research Centre suggested that Podemos could hold the largest share of the vote in the country’s General Election in December, despite only having been formed this year.
Another of the smaller parties to make major gains in the local elections was Ciudadanos, a pro-business and anti Catalan independence party supporting the region’s continued integration into both Spain and the European Union. The party saw its total number of Councillors elected increase to 1500, an enormous increase from the eleven seats it gained in 2011. The growth of Ciudadanos represents an interesting departure from what many have percieved as the growth in demand for Catalonian independence, suggesting that the greater social equality and economic stability have now become more of a priority. Although, pro-independence parties are still expected to retain a majority in the elections to the Catalonian regional parliament in September, which have been billed as a referendum on the country’s relationship with Spain.
The general trend appears to be a turn away from the established parties, with voters citing a lack of confidence and a lack of action as major reasons for voting in newer and sometimes more radical alternatives. One thing is clear – Spanish politics is no longer a system dominated by two major parties and the bigger changes are yet to come.