Auteur: Helena Spongenberg
Spanish politics is facing the change of an era with the rise of two new political parties, the far-left Podemos and the centrist Cuidadanos.
While Podemos is set to break the Spanish two-party system in the country’s year of elections, Cuidadanos, open to working with the established parties, could be the one left holding the cards.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy have yet to call a general election, expected for the end of the year, but already later this month more than 8,000 municipalities and 13 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities will hold an election.
What is usually categorised as a battle between the red and blue - the socialist PSOE and the conservative PP - with a few smaller parties on the sidelines, is now set to become a more colourful battle involving four big parties.
Podemos arrived on the scene early last year, and quickly won enough votes to get five seats in the European Parliament. Four months ago, a poll by CIS showed the party representing the “indignados” - or the ‘angry ones’ - would land second place with 24 percent of the votes behind Partido Popular’s 27 percent and just ahead of the socialists.
Last month, a Metroscopia poll gave Podemos, PSOE, PP and the newcomer on the national scene - Ciudadanos - around the 20 percent of the votes each.
That is a far cry from PP’s current absolute majority.
“Governments at all levels will be fragmented,” says Jordi Molina, a political expert teaching global affairs in Barcelona.
“Spain will have a government, that will need a political culture that doesn’t exist in Spain,” he said, referring to coalitions involving parties from across the political spectrum.
While Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias has said he does not want to cooperate with “la casta” - referring to the established parties - Ciudadanos’ leader, Albert Rivera, has not ruled it out.
And this could give Rivera a key role to play in the newly-elected municipals, autonomous communities and eventually in the next government in Madrid.
Thirty-five year-old Albert Rivera has been the leader of Ciudadanos (Spanish for citizens) since the party’s formation nine years ago.
The party was set up in Barcelona to counter the Catalan nationalist parties and currently has nine members in the Catalan parliament (7 percent) and 2 MEPs. It became a national party last year.
“It is a party that is very focused on the person , in the figure of Albert Rivera”, explains Francesc Pallares Porta, professor in political and social science at the University of Pompeu Fabre in Barcelona.
“It is a party that is in the centre of everything, that is in the process of organisation - a party that has gone from being an anti-Catalan-nationalist party only in Catalonia to become a party that is increasingly occupying the place by the centre-right PP in crisis.”
Rivera himself has defined his party as being liberal on economics and left on social issues. His Twitter slogan says: “Catalonia is my homeland, Spain is my country and EU our future”.
The change of an era in Spanish politics
“This is a change of an era. The democracy that was created in 1978 has been worn out. People were given the promise that general welfare would be better for each passing generation. But in times where one in two youngsters are unemployed; the educated go abroad to find work; and the average salary is just over €1,000 a month, they don’t feel like they have a bright future ahead of them”, says Molina.
“That, coupled with the massive corruption cases in the political parties and in the unions; the rich that evade Spanish taxes; the judicial system that is too politicised and doesn’t fully work; and then of course all the troubles of the royal family as an icing on the top of the cake; has made people very angry.”
Molina notes that both Podemos and Ciudadanos have made themselves powerful by putting people at the centre of their political discourse and by chanelling the anger of disenchanted voters.
Although both parties call for change, Pablo Iglesias calls for that change in an angry voice, while Albert Rivera, in his shirt and blazer, appeals to the more moderate voters still wanting change.
Speaking at an economic forum in Valencia this week, he called for a project to regenerate Spain.
“I believe that the regeneration of this country should be by people born in democracy, by people who do not carry any baggage, by people free of corruption cases”, said Rivera, adding that “this isn’t about age, … this is about being free.”
Speaking to EUobserver while on campaign trail this week, Rivera said that he believes in a stronger EU where Spain should play a more active role.
“At the moment, Spain regrettably plays a too passive role in Europe. Simply trying to negotiate on the issue of the deficit or on economic issues.”
“I would like to see Spain be like it was in the 1980s when we entered the European Union - one of the engines for the progress of Europe.”
“Despite the fact that Europe’s economic policies in the last few years has creates a lot of euroscepticism, I believe that it is much better to stay together [in the EU]”.
“To me, the problems of the EU are due to the lack of unification, not for the excess of unification,“ Rivera said.