Spanish politics have excited interest throughout Europe since the breakthrough of Podemos in the European elections in May 2014. Likened to Syriza in Greece, they yesterday faced their first electoral test in Spain in the elections in the autonomous province of Andalucia.
These elections are the first of a wave of municipal, regional and national elections that hold the promise of a transformation of Spanish politics before the end of 2015. The results as they emerged last night showed what the newspaper El País called ‘a first political earthquake’.
On an increased turnout of voters, both new parties made significant breakthroughs in the Seville parliament, with Podemos winning 15 seats and doubling its vote in the region while Ciudadanos won 9 seats and saw its vote rise from 1.7% in May of last year to 9% yesterday. Meanwhile, the Socialist party (PSOE) which has dominated Andalucian politics since the return of democracy maintained its dominance winning 47 seats, the same as it had in the outgoing parliament but short of an absolute majority in the 109 seat parliament.
The big losers of yesterday’s election is the Partido Popular (PP), in power in Madrid and in most autonomous regions. It lost 17 seats to end up with 33 while the Izquierda Unida, the United Left that has been Spain’s third political force and was in government in Seville with the Socialist, won only five seats, losing seven.
These elections therefore confirm that Spain is leading the way to a new progressive European politics. Unlike other countries where the new right has seemed to offer the prospect of political change or where, as in Ireland, fragmentation offers no clear path forward, Spanish politics is showing the emergence of significant new political groupings.
A number of conclusions can be drawn from the elections to the Seville parliament. Firstly, the ‘new left’ of Podemos is replacing the ‘old left’ of IU and has burst on to the political scene. Founded only a year ago, it is now the third political force in a region in Spain where it was regarded as being quite weak. This therefore reinforces its promise in other regions, and nationally, where it is stronger.
Ciudadanos, a party that emerged as a centrist force in Catalonia based on its strong anti-corruption message, has made a major breakthrough in a region where it had no party organisation up until very recently. Its breakthrough has come at the expense of the governing PP which has faced a wave of corruption scandals that lap at the feet of the most senior members of the party.
Bipartidism is dead in Spain after last night’s results. No longer are Spanish politics dominated by the PP and the PSOE. What will emerged in autonomous regions and at national level over the coming months will change the shape of Spanish politics; what is less clear is how. The coming months are going to define how far and in what direction that change goes.