Spain opposition leader quits after EU vote shock

26th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Spain's main opposition leader said Monday he was quitting after voters and anti-austerity protest parties punished the country's two big political forces in the European elections.

Socialist Party leader Alfredo Rubalcaba said he would hand over the leadership at a snap congress in July -- the first major head to roll in Europe after Sunday's EU-wide vote.

Spanish voters fed up with spending cuts and corruption on Sunday punished the two main parties, which have alternated in power in Spain since the return of democracy 37 years ago.

They lost a combined 17 seats in the European parliament, ending up with 30 out of Spain's 54 seats.

Eight smaller, mostly anti-austerity leftist parties shared the remaining 24 seats in a vote that media and their rivals said changed the political landscape in Spain.

Among the upstarts, "Podemos", a new party born out of the "Indignant" protest movement that erupted three years ago, beat expectations to win five seats.

"The results augur a more open political landscape that may be a prelude to the next national election," due in 2015, said top-selling daily newspaper El Pais.

It called the outcome a "serious punishment" for the two big parties whose proposals to revive Spain's economy are "too similar, despite the slogans".

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which has pushed through painful spending cuts since coming to power in 2011, won 16 seats in Sunday's vote. The Socialists took 14 seats.

The two parties have dominated Spanish politics since Spain returned to democracy after the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

Their combined share of the vote fell from around 80 percent in the last European elections in 2009 to 49 percent this time.

It was the first time since the return to democracy that they had failed to get more than half of the ballots cast in an election.

Voter turnout in Spain was 45.7 percent.

- 'Main parties in retreat' -

Rubalcaba took responsibility for the Socialists' decline in the vote. He called an extraordinary congress for July 19-20, at which he said he would step down.

"I assume my responsibility for the election results, which were bad," he told a news conference.

Podemos -- the name means "We Can" -- came fourth in voting in Spain, just behind the Plural Left coalition which took six seats, up from two in 2009.

The centrist UPyD party won four seats, up from just one.

"Maybe we can talk about the end of bipartisanship. It is true that the main parties are in retreat. What we must do now is pursue them," said Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

"We are going to work with other colleagues from southern Europe to say in the European Parliament that we don't want to be a colony of Germany or the Troika" of international creditors, he added.

Iglesias, a 35-year-old political science professor, is a regular panelist on political talk shows and ballots featured a photo of his face.

Centre-right newspaper El Mundo said Iglesias had managed to "fill the leadership vacuum" in the "Indignant" movement since it emerged, rallied largely via the Internet, in 2011.

Like other small parties, Podemos tapped into anger over a jobless rate of around 26 percent, cuts to public spending and corruption scandals that have tainted mainstream parties.

Arcadio Pacheco, an 18-year-old who voted for the first time on Sunday, said he was drawn to the party because its candidates were "workers, bakers, cooks, or whatever, which makes it closer to the people."

The Popular Party, still the leading political force in the country despite its lost seats, said it was satisfied with the result.

Its secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal pointed out that Spain was one of the few nations where the ruling party won the European elections.

© 2014 AFP

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