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Spanish local election shakes up political landscape


spain mapSpain faced a changed political landscape Monday after the “Indignado” protest movement gave the ruling conservative rivals a battering in local elections, topping the vote in Barcelona and shattering the governing party’s majority in Madrid.

In a dramatic shakeup of Spanish politics, an upstart group backed by the anti-austerity protest party Podemos could now govern in the capital, a longtime conservative stronghold.

The new political groups Barcelona En Comu and Ahora Madrid were formally launched just a few months ago, but the results of the vote show they are already loosening the grip of the two big parties that have run Spain for nearly four decades.

The new parties 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 Manuela Carmena, came second behind Spain’s governing Popular Party (PP) — but it could govern the capital if it joins forces with the main opposition Socialists, who came third.

That would mark a stunning blow to the PP, which has governed Madrid for 23 years, and to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he braces for a general election due around November.

“We will remember this as something special and extraordinary,” Carmena told supporters in the city centre.

Barcelona En Comu, which gained just one more seat than its nearest competitors in the city council, is led by 41-year-old activist Ada Colau, who rose to prominence defending poor homeowners from eviction.

– ‘David and Goliath’ –

“This will go down in history,” she told supporters.

“In this titanic struggle of David versus Goliath, we have won because we did incredible things with scarce resources and the power of the people.”

Thousands of supporters of both parties rallied in the streets of Madrid and Barcelona, cheering and yelling “Yes we can!”

“This result in Spain’s two biggest cities was the most demonstrative symptom of the political and social transformation which the country faces,” El Mundo wrote in an editorial on Monday.

Spain’s two mainstream parties, the Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists which have alternated in government for nearly four decades, captured a combined 52 percent of the vote, down from 65 percent four years ago.

The PP won 12 of the 13 regional government votes but lost its absolute majorities.

It won the most votes overall across the cities but saw its support plunge to 27 percent from 37 percent in 2011.

– Podemos eyes general election –

Podemos, an ally of Greece’s left-wing ruling party Syriza, did not run itself in the town elections but placed third in voting for several regional governments.

The PP and Socialists “have had one of the worst results in their history”, Podemos’ 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. We will take up the challenge of winning the elections against the Popular Party.”

Alongside the left-wing protest groups is the economically liberal centrist party Ciudadanos, which came in fourth place in Madrid and Barcelona.

Like Podemos, it has pledged to fight corruption and heal a country stricken by unemployment and spending cuts.

Ciudadanos is luring voters from right and left, promising more moderate, market-friendly reforms seen as less alarming for foreign investors.

In Barcelona, Colau faces a tricky job forging a coalition among a mixture of small rival parties who could unite to block her.

To her supporters, however, her topping the vote felt like a triumph.

“I am not used to winning, it feels strange,” said one of followers, 63-year-old Fernando Ramo, who retired last month after a long time unemployed.

“Today is different. The losers have won and it is a great victory.”

Top-selling daily El Pais said the results “confirm the beginning of a political upheaval in Spain”.

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