December 19, 2015
Spain is headed to elections on Sunday and two new political players are posing a serious challenge to the dominance of the country’s two leading parties, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the conservative Popular Party (PP).
Since the end of the Franco dictatorship, the PSOE and PP have jostled it out between themselves to lead the country. However, they now face stiff competition from two new parties who emerged as players from the days of the 2008 financial crisis.
Spain’s protracted economic crisis spawned the left-wing Podemos (We Can), fronted by the charismatic Pablo Iglesias, who claims to have already made irreversible changes to the country’s “political map.”
“With #CaravanaPP media who are covering my electoral campaign. Thanks for joining us in these very intense days.”
Meanwhile, the Catalan-based Ciudadanos (Citizens), dubbed the “Podemos of the right” by the media, recently made the resounding leap from regional to national politics.
Formerly known as the Ciutadans, the party is expected to attract votes from the traditional bases of the more established PSOE and PP with its conservative manifesto and savvy use of social media.
Although the latest opinion polls show the incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the PP are frontrunners, the votes are fragmented between all four parties, meaning a coalition government of competing rivals will be the likely outcome of the election.
And with voter turnout expected to reach a high of 80 percent, it is clear that this election will mark the beginning of a new era in Spanish politics.
teleSUR takes a look at the main political parties battling it out this weekend.
Popular Party (PP)
The conservative PP ousted the PSOE from power in 2011 by winning 44.64 percent of the votes and 186 seats in the Congress of Deputies. It was the party’s largest ever majority but such an emphatic victory appears to be way off the cards for the 60-year-old Rajoy this time round, with the electorate seemingly discontent with the nation’s faltering economic recovery. Unemployment levels across the country still remain above 20 percent, as they were in 2013, and forecasts suggest this figure is likely to decrease only minimally by 2020 under the current government.
Rajoy’s case for re-election was further hindered last year by corruption scandals that rocked the party, with a judge ruling that a PP official had kept a secret slush of campaign money for 18 years that “drew on various sources of funding outside the legal economic sphere.” However, having been a minister from 1996 to 2003, Rajoy boasts a long political career and the inexperience of his competition is a caveat he plays on. He has said his competition was formed “a quarter of an hour ago” and has shunned invitations to participate in recent four-way debates, saying he will only debate with the “main opposition leader.”
Socialist Party (PSOE)
After the crushing defeat in the 2011 elections, the centre-left PSOE turned to 43-year-old Pedro Sanchez. Like Rajoy, Sanchez is playing on the inexperience of Podemos and Ciudadanos and argues that the PSOE are the only credible alternative to the PP. In his election campaign, Sanchez has cited the party’s previous achievements while in government such as the passing of landmark legislation including the abortion law, the disability law and the same-sex marriage law. However, the party remains associated with the economic turmoil Spain found itself in the last time they were in power. Spain’s once buoyant economy crashed under the leadership of ex-Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero while the party is also struggling to shake off the image that it only serves the country’s elite.
Having formed in January 2014 Podemos’ rise has been nothing short of meteoric and the party threatens to change the shape of Spanish politics on Dec. 20. The party burst onto the scene in 2014 with the goal of translating Spain’s indignados protest movement into a more structured citizen-led political formation. Five months after forming, they won five seats in the European Parliament and now hold more than 100 seats in regional parliaments, while candidates associated with the movement have also won mayorships in Madrid. Podemos’ platform emphasizes public control, poverty reduction and social reform. They also propose more taxes on the rich, a referendum on King Felipe as head of state as well as a referendum on whether the Catalan region should remain part of Spain. However, Pablo Iglesias—the party’s 37-year-old leader—has distanced himself from some of the party’s more radical measures and the party has lost significant ground in recent opinion polls.