Last Sunday’s regional and local elections in Spain has seen the incumbent PP given a thrashing and represented a major win for grassroots movements.
Spain held regional elections in 13 of its 17 regions (Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia, and the Basque Country have separate regional electoral cycles) and local elections in more than 8,000 towns and cities. While the governing Partido Popular (PP) received the most votes, at 27%, or over 6 million votes, it emerged badly bruised from this election, losing a massive 2.5 million votes, or 11 percentage points on the 2011 election. Hot on their heels were the Socialist party (PSOE) with 25% of the votes (5.6 million), also dropping voters since 2011 (a loss of 700,000 ).
Picking up the lion’s share of these lost votes are Podemos, the left-wing anti-austerity party, and Ciudadanos, a centrist, pro-business, reformist party. Founded in time for the 2014 European Elections, Podemos has five seats in the European Parliament.
While the Socialists have lost a substantial number of votes, it is significantly fewer than the PP and the party is better positioned to build coalitions with Podemos to the left and Ciudadanos in the centre. The Socialists look like being the senior partner or having full control in some eight of Spain’s regions. The PP will also seek to actively create coalition with the centrist Ciudadanos, but even in doing so it is likely to keep power in a total of only four regions, losing six. The results at local level are more fragmented, with big wins for the far left in major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza, where they have more seats than the Socialist party. Anti-austerity parties are likely to take control in Spain’s two largest cities: Ada Colau, the 41-year-old anti-eviction activist who leads Barcelona En Comú, was elected mayor of the Catalan city, and while the PP is the largest party in Madrid, it could well be squeezed out if Manuela Carmena’s Podemos-backed coalition Ahora Madrid forges a coalition with the Socialists.
The big losers of this election are the incumbents – the PP and even the CiU (independent Catalan right wing) in Barcelona. While the surge of Podemos and Ciudadanos has been interpreted by many as the beginning of the end of the country’s traditional two-party system, it may be too early to make that call. Local elections are typical for punishing incumbents, but it remains to be seen whether Podemos and Ciudadanos will be able to translate their electoral success on the local level into the national arena at the next general elections. What is certain is that this election represents a significant shift in the Spanish political landscape, seeing as it does the protest parties move from local streets to local seats.