‘Indignados’ top in Barcelona, could govern Madrid
Spain's "Indignado" protest movement gave its ruling conservative rivals a battering in local elections Sunday, topping the vote for mayor in Barcelona and shattering the ruling party's majority in Madrid.
In a dramatic shakeup of Spanish politics, an upstart group backed by the anti-austerity protest party Podemos could govern the capital, a longtime conservative stronghold, the official count showed.
The new political groups, Barcelona En Comu and Ahora Madrid, were formally launched just a few months ago but have already started to break the grip of the two big parties that have run Spain for nearly four decades.
The new groups were born out of the “Indignado” (“Outraged”) protests that swamped Spanish streets during recent years of economic crisis, campaigning against corruption and unemployment.
Ahora Madrid, led by 71-year-old retired judge an grandmother Manuela Carmena, came second behind Spain’s governing Popular Party (PP) but could govern the city if it joins forces with another party.
That would be a stunning setback for the PP, which has governed the city for 23 years, and for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he fights to stay in office in a general election due around November.
In Spain’s second-biggest city Barcelona En Comu won the most votes and one more council seat than its nearest competitor, but faces a tricky job forging a coalition among a mixture of small rival parties.
– ‘Historic’ vote –
Analysts say the new groups could shatter the two-party system that has dominated Spain since it emerged from dictatorship in the late 1970s.
Alongside the left-wing protest groups is the economically liberal centrist party Ciudadanos, which came in fourth place in Madrid and Barcelona with about 11 percent of the vote.
Ciudadanos and Podemos have both pledged to fight corruption and heal a country stricken by unemployment and spending cuts.
“This is the first time we have felt hopeful when coming out to vote,” said Eva Quintas, 32, after casting her ballot in central Madrid for Ahora Madrid.
Podemos, an ally of Greece’s radical Syriza party, aims to overtake the mainstream left to become the main opposition force in the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy.
Ciudadanos meanwhile is luring voters from right and left, promising more moderate, market-friendly reforms.
Its leader Albert Rivera has described Sunday’s vote as “historic”.
Voters were choosing leaders in more than 8,000 city halls and 13 of the 17 regional governments which control health and education budgets.
More than 35 million people were registered to vote and turnout was just under 50 percent a few hours before polling closed.
– ‘Indignada’ mayors? –
Podemos and Ciudadanos have surged over the past year to occupy third and fourth place respectively in opinion polls, behind the Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists.
The PP won the most votes overall across Spain’s cities but saw its support plunge to 27 percent.
The PP and the main opposition Socialists “have had one of the worst days in their history”, Podemos’s pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias told supporters after polls closed on Sunday.
“This spring of change is irreversible and will take us all the way to November… to win the elections against the Popular Party.”
If Ahora Madrid and Barcelona En Comu secure ruling coalitions, they would enthrone the first “Indignada” mayors of major Spanish cities.
The Barcelona group’s leader Ada Colau is a 41-year-old female activist who rose to prominence defending poor homeowners from eviction.
Rajoy has warned that ejecting the PP from office could disrupt Spain’s economic recovery.
Economic growth is gradually improving, but the unemployment rate still stood at more than 23 percent at the last count and anti-austerity campaigners say the recovery is not benefitting the poorest.