Spanish voters appear to deal blow to bi-party politics: exit poll
Spain appeared to have dealt a crushing blow to bi-party politics Sunday in historic elections that saw the incumbent conservatives score a small win tailed closely by the upstart far-left Podemos, an influential exit poll said.
If the result is confirmed by official figures later Sunday, Syriza ally Podemos will emerge as the nation’s most popular left-wing party in the closely-fought legislative elections.
Led by 37-year-old, pony-tailed Pablo Iglesias, Podemos was created less than two years ago on the back of exasperation over austerity and corruption.
The election caps off a year of electoral change in southern Europe after Syriza was swept to power in Greece in January and a coalition of leftist parties in Portugal pooled their votes in parliament to unseat the conservative government after an inconclusive election in October.
Just as voting stations closed at 1900 GMT, the opinion poll of 177,000 voters broadcast on television put the ruling Popular Party (PP) in first place with 26.8 percent of the vote, with Podemos coming second with 21.7 percent.
The Socialist party (PSOE) scored 20.5 percent of the vote while upstart centrists Ciudadanos got 15.2 percent, according to the poll.
However the PSOE was still expected to get a few more seats in parliament than Podemos, due to a complex electoral law that gives more weight to rural areas and small provinces where the Socialists are better represented.
– ‘Forgotten about us’ –
If confirmed, the election results will mark the end of more than 30 years of bi-party politics in Spain, since 1982, during which the PP and PSOE have alternated power.
The PP looks set to lose its absolute majority in parliament, which will force it to form an uneasy alliance with another political grouping or attempt to rule as a minority government.
And with far-left Podemos and the PSOE on a near equal footing in parliament, this would be a difficult task.
“The PP and the Socialists became complacent and they have forgotten about us. We have to give the new parties a chance,” said grey-haired truck driver Francisco Perez, 53, after voting for Podemos in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
Sky-high unemployment, inequality, corruption and an ever-rising separatist drive in Catalonia are just some of the issues at stake in a country deeply scarred by a financial crisis.
Mariano Rajoy, the austere 60-year-old incumbent premier and PP leader, has positioned himself as a safe pair of hands who dragged the country away from economic collapse when he took power in 2011 and put it on the path of recovery.
After years of on-off recession, the government predicts the economy will grow 3.3 percent this year — to the envy of many of its European neighbours.
But unemployment remains stubbornly high at more than 21 percent, and Rajoy’s rivals point to glaring inequalities brought on by his drastic spending cuts, tax rises and health reforms.
Seen as running out of steam just months ago, Podemos has spectacularly gained ground again thanks to Iglesias’s down-to-earth appeal and his move away from the more radical, far-left ideals and rhetoric his party once espoused.
Among other policies, it would like to implement a 35-hour week and an increase in the minimum wage.
It has also offered to allow a referendum in Catalonia where a separatist movement has been ever-rising and vowed to oppose the country’s involvement in international conflicts.
Centrist Ciudadanos led by 36-year-old Albert Rivera, which until just weeks ago was seen as playing the role of kingmaker, only came fourth, but will still get a significant amount of seats in parliament.
– ‘Old versus the new’ –
Ana Salazar, head of research and strategy at consultants Red Lines, says the shakeup in Spanish bi-party politics started when Podemos emerged in 2014 on the back of an “Indignados” movement fed up with austerity-triggered inequality and corruption.
Then came Ciudadanos, which was formed in 2006 in Catalonia but only truly emerged nationwide last year.
“Now we have… the old versus the new,” said Salazar.
“The new parties were needed — it’s the end of bipartisanship,” said Silverio Ares, an unemployed 62-year-old, after voting in the northwestern city of A Coruna.