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25 M: when the Left turned in Spain

, by Miguel García Barea

April 14th, 1931, the King of Spain Alfonso XIII abdicated and departed for exile in Italy. The reason? The outcome of municipal elections in which Republican candidates prevailed in most of the Spanish territory, especially in the biggest cities. The unexpected results of those elections, apparently inconsequential, brought a new regime, the Second Republic of Spain (1931-1936). The reaction of the Conservative MP Aznar was also famous. He claimed he was unable to understand how a country could “had gone to bed loyalist and the following day woke up republican”.

Ada Colau(left) and Manuela Carmena (centre) candidates from Podemos to Barcelona and Madrid.


While it seems unlikely such a drastic change after the last elections, due to among other things, the proximity to the general elections (scheduled for the next October), the different results such as ones four years ago and the clear triumph of the Left however reminds us of a bygone era, like the early twentieth century. The Popular Party (PP) associated with the Christian Democratic EPP and currently in the central government has lost 513 absolute majorities, despite being the most voted party, and presumably they won’t hold any of the important municipalities such as Madrid, Valencia, La Coruna or Seville, whose governments will change to various progressive coalitions, environmentalists or socialists. The same fate as in Barcelona, where the big losers have been the CiU, the Catalan right-nationalist party, currently at the head of the Catalan government and in the City of Barcelona.

Podemos: A successful municipalist strategy

The strategy of Podemos, the emerging left-party in Spanish politics, has been a complete success. To prevent the wear-and-tear in their campaign they decided to create new popular platforms in some important cities, just created for this election, in some feuds with the support of Equo (Green Party) and Izquierda Unida (the traditional Spanish radical left party, including the Communist Party). And to fight the battle against some veterans of Spanish politics, they have opted for choosing well-known faces among their candidates. For example, in Madrid, they recruited the judge who was director of the platform Judges for Democracy, Manuela Carmena (Ahora Madrid), who has disputed the mayor in a vibrant election battle against Esperanza Aguirre (PP) the last president of Madrid, who has won the election in votes and seats (21 versus 20). However, the 9 seats of Antonio Miguel Carmona, the socialist candidate, could give the mayor of the capital to Manuela Carmena.

In Barcelona we can see a similar situation: Ada Colau, a social activist and one of the founders of the PAH (Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage, dedicated to halt evictions in Spain) won the election with his platform, Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in common) relieving from the office to Xavier Trias (Convergence and Union). In any case, Colau is also forced to ally with other progressive parties if she wants to get the key to the city. Other cities where the heirs of the popular movement 15M have been particularly successful were La Coruna, Zaragoza and Cadiz. In the latter, Teófila Martínez (PP) will lost her government, uninterrupted since 1995 In Valencia, the big winners have been Compromís, a coalition which includes a regionalist, ecologists and other leftist parties, with only a seat less than the 10 of Rita Barberá (PP), Mayoress of Valencia since 1991. Much of Compromís’ success is due to the charisma of their spokesman, Monica Oltra, a lawyer born in Germany, famous for her protest t-shirt and firm attitude toward the recent and uncovered corruption cases in Valencia.

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Monica Oltra, leader of Compromís

The elections last weekend have not only affected various municipalities, but many autonomous communities of the Spanish state, with the exceptions of Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country. If the results have been more conservative and less breakthrough than thought, the entry of Podemos and Ciudadanos (another emergent liberal party) in most of the regional assemblies has been noteworthy. The two platforms, the Leftist party directed by Pablo Iglesias and the moderate one by Albert Rivera, will both be crucial to form a new government in every region.

The Right has won in almost all autonomous regions, earning more than a remarkable result in Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha. However, significant changes may occur in regional governments, such as Navarra, Aragon and the Balearic Islands, where conservative formations in power could also be replaced by leftist coalitions.

Towards a four-party system

It seems clear that bipartisanship has died in Spain. Arriving to specific agreements has become a necessity, both for those who want to preserve their power to those who want to recover or display it for the first time.

The Socialist Party is obliged to come to terms with Podemos if it wants to beach the PP. Ciudadanos have more freedom to act. Described as a “hinge party”, willing to negotiate with both the PP and PSOE, even with Podemos, as Albert Rivera has recently said. An attitude of ambiguity and mainstreaming that will certainly encourage their entry into the institutions, but may disappoint some of his voters, composed of radical reformers and also Spanish nationalists disenchanted with the PP government.

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Some Candidates of Ciudadanos, with Albert Rivera (2nd left)

In any case, Election Day has left other inconsolable losers. UPyD, a progressive, reformist and Jacobin party, founded by the former Socialist Rosa Díez, has lost all their representation in regional governments and local councils of the provincial capitals. Most of its votes have gone to Ciudadanos, those who, paradoxically, were refused to negotiate a possible joint bid after the success of both parties in European elections. Nobody could have imagined a year ago such a different fortune for each party. Izquierda Unida, meanwhile, has been quite weak in places where they have not been integrated in popular platforms, and not even in the regional councils. Is the Spanish result a common European reality?

Now the question is: can we extrapolate the Spanish situation to the rest of Europe? The answer is not easy. While across the continent we also notice the disappointment towards the political class, not everywhere the winds of change are blowing in the same direction. The Spanish problems are not the same as the other countries of Europe; in Spain unemployment and household debt is high, but the public deficit is lower than that of other states in the Eurozone. Spanish society is more concerned by youth emigration than illegal immigration, unlike other northern countries, creditors and receivers of people.

In the elections that have taken place recently in France, the UK and Poland, conservative parties have been reinforced, in the first two cases with a fairly eurosceptic stance. However, in Greece and Spain it is the Left which has triumphed; and though we have only seen local elections, Europhobic speech has been completely absent among the progressive and the conservative campaigns. Such a very good news story for the rest of the continent.

We can observe several reactions to the Spanish results. The international press has unanimously announced the triumph of the “indignados”, the name received by the participants of the Movement 15-M. “Europe must change its economic policy and show some humanity,” said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

On the other hand, the leader of the eurosceptic Northern League, Matteo Salvini, has taken to bring the results to his own field. “The election results in Spain and Poland are dealing a nice blow to advocates of Europe, banking and servants of Brussels” he said on Radio Padania. “We have many differences with Podemos, but this is a breath of fresh air for Europe of the peoples. (...) It means that people want to regain control of the borders, factories, fields of work, banks. And it says stop to bureaucrats in Brussels and a Europe without a soul,”he added. However, he has not ruled on the failure of the Eurosceptic groups in Spain, like EH-Bildu or CUP, which have not won in any major city.

What is going to happen now? The Popular Party is forced to make self-criticisms if they do not want to lose more voters. Podemos and Ciudadanos have much to lose - and to win - in these months before the general elections; their successes will bring them voters, their mistakes, will make them lose them. The PSOE, away from the spotlight, has survived the announced disaster, and from the shadows may establish a strategy to reorganise themselves. And by default, the peripheral nationalist parties may have lost their influence in the whole state, since their support will not be necessary to set the central government any more.

The municipal elections have served as a starter just before the General ones, the main course, in autumn. Victors and vanquished have the same question: who will be the next Prime Minister in Spain? Since Franco’s death we haven’t seen so much uncertainty. While it is true that, inevitably, political and institutional stability will be lower, it is now the case that the Spanish are also more involved than ever, due to the expectations created by the new parties. We are witnessing a very interesting time for Spanish and European politics in the months ahead. Take a seat and get comfortable.

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