Andy Durgan reports from Barcelona
Local and regional elections in Spain on 24 May saw the left make major gains. Coalitions backed by Podemos and other left forces will now run many towns and cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.
The elections also saw the continual decline of the two dominant parties of the last 30 years: the Conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE); their share of their vote went down from 80% to around 50%. Having lost two and half million votes since the last local elections in 2011, the ruling PP has been thrown into crisis. Agreements between the left and PSOE could also see the PP lose control of most regional parliaments. In many places, the conservative vote has gone to the new Citizens (Ciudadanos) party which is now seen as the main hope to save the existing political setup.
But the traditional left has also lost out. The Communist Party-led United Left (IU) has, with few exceptions, seen its vote plummet as their voters have opted to support the new formations. In some places, IU has avoided being wiped off the map by integrating into broader left platforms.
Swinging cuts to an already under-funded public sector, mass unemployment (still at 25%; over 50% for under 25s) and a rise in poverty have combined with numerous cases of political corruption to push the electorate to the left
In 2011 around 25% of the population took part in some way in the indignados movement’s occupation of public squares calling for the end of austerity, corruption and for radical democratic reform. Last year the dramatic emergence of Podemos in the European elections with 1.25 million votes was the clearest sign that a major shift in Spanish politics was underway.
In Madrid the new mayor, Manuela Carmena, a retired judge and former Communist Party member, was backed by a list (Now Madrid) including members of Podemos, social movement activists and ex IU members. Barcelona’s new mayor, Ada Colau, was the spokesperson for the militant anti-evictions campaign (PAH) and stood in coalition (Barcelona Together) with Podemos, the Catalan green left (ICV), IU and others. In both cases they will be the first women to head these cities’ governments.
The radical left has also done well: both as part of broader coalitions and, in Catalonia, through the pro independence and overtly anti-capitalist CUP which has seen its vote double to over 220,000 and now has 374 councillors compared to 101 in 2011. At the same time the fascist Platform for Catalonia saw its councillors slashed from 67 to eight thanks to a magnificent campaign by the Unity against Fascism and Racism movement.
Now it is to be seen if real change can be brought about. Both Carmena and Colau have promised to stop all evictions, introduce measures to alleviate poverty, root out corruption and push through democratic reform. But it is what happens outside the Town Halls and Regional Parliaments which will determine if such measures become reality. Both mobilization and the pressure from the anti capitalist left will be crucial to ensure this.