Gloomy Spain gears up for fierce election battle – again
A gloomy Spain geared up for a fresh election battle Wednesday as new polls loomed in June to try and lift the country out of a state of political limbo that may play into the conservatives' hands.
Gone was the euphoria brought by elections in December that upended Spain's traditional two-party system as millions gave their vote to new groupings in the hope of ending austerity, corruption and unemployment, resulting in a hung parliament.
As the months wore on, parties that had been forced to negotiate to try and agree on a coalition government failed to do so, forcing King Felipe VI to initiate a process to dissolve parliament and call new polls on Tuesday.
"It's a joke," said Gabriella Perez, a 34-year-old Bolivian in Madrid who has the Spanish nationality.
"It was the first time that I voted as a Spaniard, and I went to the polls with excitement," said the cafe worker, who voted for the main opposition Socialists in December.
"They tried to find consensus, but each party gave priority to their interests, no agreement was reached for what Spain actually needed."
- 'Failure', 'uncertainty' -
Editorials in left- and right-wing newspapers shouted out their frustration as Spain looked set to remain without a fully functioning government for at least two more months at a time when it was emerging from a devastating economic crisis.
"A future full of uncertainty," wrote the centre-right El Mundo daily.
"A parliamentary failure -- there are no guarantees that the next parliament will end the uncertainty," the left-wing El Pais added.
Much of the coalition negotiations had centred around left-wing parties after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy -- whose conservative Popular Party (PP) won the December election but lost its majority -- gave up trying to form a government for lack of support.
The Socialists (PSOE) -- who came second in the polls with just 90 parliamentary seats out of 350 -- were tasked by the king to try and bring other parties together in a coalition, but ultimately failed.
Under an official timeframe, new polls will be announced on May 3 and are then expected to take place on June 26.
- Benefit the conservatives? -
While they acknowledged the failure of talks, party leaders started playing the campaign trail blame game Wednesday.
PSOE chief Pedro Sanchez was particularly angry at the charismatic young leader of Podemos -- the far-left party born from the Indignados protest movement against austerity -- whom he accused of blocking an opportunity to chase the conservatives from power by refusing to back him.
"People did not vote for ideological blockages but for change. That's what (Pablo) Iglesias didn't get," he told Spanish radio.
Research polls have suggested that fresh elections will do little to change the December outcome, which saw four parties win much of the parliamentary seats -- but not enough each to gain power.
Rajoy's conservatives could gain ground, while Podemos may lose a little as some of the five million people who voted for the party and its allies believe it should have worked with the Socialists.
Belen Barreiro, head of research institute MyWord, said many voters on the left felt lost after having seen the very public divisions play out on their television sets.
"They want their vote to be useful, but who do they vote for?", she said.
And that could ultimately play into the hands of conservatives.
"Over the past month, we have noticed that people are fed up," a PP lawmaker who refused to be named told AFP.
He said this general feeling of disaffection was likely to hit the younger voters who cast their ballots for new parties like Podemos, and not the PP's more loyal, older electorate.
Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, director of the Madrid chapter of the European Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledged that the vote for new parties was "very volatile" but warned against extrapolating in Spain.
"In the last elections to have taken place in southern Europe, Spain is the country where there has been the most change in voting patterns," he told AFP.
"In 2008, 83 percent of the electorate voted for traditional parties and now it's only 47 percent."
© 2016 AFP