Ahead of a General Election in Spain that must be held before the end of the year, the ruling duopoly of the Spanish Conservative (PP) and Socialist (PSOE) Parties was disrupted last weekend by the rising forces of the anti-austerity left, led by Podemos, who made massive advances in local and regional elections. Harry Blackwell reports.
The Conservative PP have formed the government since the last general election in November 2011, and had led the majority of regional and municipal assemblies, continuing a policy of vicious cuts to the social fabric and implementation of austerity favoured by the European elites. The PP continued the policy of the previous Socialist Party PSOE government, in which a policy of austerity had led to huge unemployment especially among young people. In 2011, a massive movement of popular resistance grew up in street demonstrations across the state, called the ‘Indignados’ or 15th May Movement (15-M). Out of these popular protests, a new left wing anti-austerity electoral political force, ‘Podemos’ (‘We Can’), was set up last year. Despite being only set up as a political party for a few months, Podemos made a massive electoral breakthrough in many areas of the country when it won five seats in the European Parliament election. In the elections for the Andalusian regional assembly earlier this year, Podemos emerged as the third political party and this progress was confirmed in last week’s elections. Regional and local elections are complex affairs in the Spanish state especially in those parts, such as Catalonia, where national questions are also dominant and different political formations, some reflecting local wings of state-wide parties and some reflecting national differences, emerge.
Fighting their first regional and local elections, the new Podemos movement worked closely with other left wing anti-austerity forces in order to create alternative slates in the largest cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, and they had triumphant successes breaking the stranglehold of the two main pro-austerity parties – the PP and PSOE. The group ‘United Left’ (IU), which includes the remnants of the once mighty Spanish Communist Party (PCE), have been completely marginalised by the rise of Podemos and lost much of their electoral base and many of their seats. In the past IU have propped up PSOE-led administrations in regional assemblies and councils of Spain that have implemented austerity policies at a local level. The ‘Popular Unity’ left wing pro-Catalan independence forces also entered assemblies and councils in Catalonia for the first time.
For the new Podemos-inspired elected representatives, the task will be to continue the resistance to austerity in the run-up to the General Election and avoid being dragged into supporting the ‘lesser evil’ of the PSOE.
In Britain, Left Unity has built strong links with the new Podemos movement and is regarded as a sister party. A tour of Britain by representatives of Podemos from the Spanish State, and Syriza from Greece last year was very successful and prompted strong interest in the European wide fight against austerity. The success of Podemos will be part of the scaffolding on which a stronger Left Unity in Britain can be built.
Working as a major and founding part of Podemos, ’Anticapitalistas’, the Fourth International supporters in the Spanish state and Socialist Resistance’s sister group, have played a major role in Podemos’ recent victories, as they also did in the earlier elections for the European Parliament and in Andalucia.
The article below reports from the recent elections and analyses the results from the viewpoint of Anticapitalistas. For further articles about developments in Spain and across Europe, see the Fourth International’s news and information website: International Viewpoint – internationalviewpoint.org.
Defeat for the PP and the bipartisan system
by Manuel Garí
On Sunday, May 24, 2015 elections were held in 9,000 municipalities of the Spanish state and in 13 autonomous regions (with the exception of Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country), for the councils of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa (Basque Country), the provincial councils in the Canary Islands and the councils of the three Balearic islands.
The key fact of the day is that the Popular Party (PP), although it obtained more than 6 million votes (and was thus the biggest party in terms of votes) lost 2.5 million votes compared to the last municipal elections. It beat the Socialist Party (PSOE) by only 400,000 votes. The PSOE itself lost 775,000 votes compared to the previous municipal elections, in spite of a significant increase in participation.
The second fact is that the bipartisanship on which the political regime established in 1978 is based has experienced a major setback; these two parties scored just over 50% of the votes (against almost 80 per cent in the previous municipal elections).
The third element is the strong eruption of the candidacies of Popular Unity (Candidaturas de Unidad Popular-CUP) supported by Podemos who obtained excellent results in Barcelona and Madrid, but also in the city of Cadiz and several others. The same goes for Maras in Galicia in different parts of Galicia.
These successes call into question the monopoly of the conservative right – CiU in Barcelona, or the PP elsewhere – of the governments of the major cities.
The fourth element is that the results for Podemos were good, in the municipal elections as in the regional parliaments, even if they remained below the expectations of an important part of the left. In the best of cases it only became the third biggest force.
For its part, Ciudadanos, the option for the regeneration of the system built from the boards of directors of certain large companies, did not achieve the expected results.
Finally, the United Left (Izquierda Unida-IU) lost its institutional representation in all the parliaments of the autonomies, except in Asturias and Aragon: its electorate has been absorbed by Podemos, which constitutes a failure without precedent for IU.
In terms of institutional political power, the collapse of the PP is still greater than in terms of votes cast. The PP lost the absolute majority in Cantabria, Castilla-la Mancha and the communities of Valencia and Madrid; and it also lost its governments in Aragon, Extremadura and the Balearic islands. For the moment, it holds power only in Rioja and Murcia and it is not sure of keeping in Castilla Leon.
In the municipal elections in Barcelona, Ada Colau (a list supported by Podemos) elected 11 councillors, CIU (nationalist right) 10, Ciudadanos 5, and the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) with the worst score in its history, 4. In Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre (PP) elected 21 councillors against 20 for Manuela Carmena (supported by Podemos) and 9 for the PSOE. The PP will not govern because the total of left councillors is greater than those of the right.
In Cadiz, Kichi Gonzalez, a member of Anticapitalistas, led the list which obtained 8 municipal councillors, against 10 for Teofila Martinez of the PP, which thus loses its absolute majority. This means that the left as a whole has more councillors than the right for the first time in two decades.
In the same way, in La Coruna and Santiago de Compostela, the Mareas Atlánticas have challenged the power of Feijó, a possible successor to Rajoy as head of the PP.
In trying to make a partial analysis, Pedro Sanchez, leader of the PSOE, has said that the results “are the beginning of the end of Mariano Rajoy as Prime Minister”. What Sanchez has not said is in which direction the country is going. His project remains strictly that of social neoliberalism. Not surprising that the socialist pretender to replace Rajoy has also voted for the reform of article 135 of the Constitution, which gives priority to the payment of the debt over social spending.
Sanchez is mistaken if he thinks that the solution is a new edition of alternation between the two dynastic parties. The defeat of the PP is the expression of the rejection of the policy of social cuts and challenges to human rights and democracy; policies that have led the majority of the working class and the majority of the population into a situation of continuing depletion while the elites are enriched, with the result that Spanish society is the most unequal in the European Union.
In these elections, Podemos and the candidatures of Popular Unity (CUP) in which it participated have been consolidated as tools to enable the people and working classes to express themselves. Change continues to advance. The message of the polls is clear: the PP out of all institutions. But the challenge for Podemos and the CUP is to deepen this change to achieve a democratic rupture and prevent the PSOE implementing a cosmetic regeneration of the old regime. To get there, Podemos and the CUP should first make sure the PP cannot govern, but especially they need to develop popular mobilization alongside the social organizations and deepen programmatic and strategic thinking with the objective of defining the future and promoting the active participation of citizens in public affairs, by creating new forms of popular decision making at regional and municipal levels.
The response of the Anticapitalistas current to the results spells out its main task: “It is now time to open a massive and democratic debate in the popular movement to win the coming general elections. We need to continue expanding and organizing the tidal wave of change, with open assemblies in all corners of the state. Popular unity, a radical break with the logic of managing austerity, a clear commitment to involving people in all the decisions that are to come, including the policy of pacts, are the way to win”.