Socialist Worker

Breakthroughs for new parties in Spanish elections

Election results in the Spanish state reflect a mood for change. But there needs to be a clear left alternative, argues Dave Sewell

Issue No. 2456

A rally of the radical Barcelona In Common alliance which came first in the city council election

A rally of the radical Barcelona In Common alliance which came first in the city council election (Pic: Jordi Boixareu on Flickr)

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Simultaneous elections took place across the Spanish state on 24 May.

  • Many different parties and alliances ran in various local and regional elections. But generally new parties did well at the expense of the established parties.
  • Elections in 13 of the 17 devolved parliaments produced no overall winner. After a similar result in Andalucia over two months ago, there’s still no coalition

Elections in the Spanish state last month shattered the party system that’s dominated for four decades. 

The ruling Tory PP lost majorities and the Labour-type PSOE failed to gain them. New parties flourished. And there were welcome and exciting gains for the radical left.

It was far from the result the establishment wanted. The end of Spain’s recession was meant to restore normality. 

It turned out mass evictions, unemployment and emigration weren’t that easy to forgive. 

And millions-strong protest movements had fed a sense that change was possible.

But nor was it quite the result the left hoped for last year, when new party Podemos surged to the top of the polls from nowhere. 

It spoke the language of social movements and borrowed their method of mass local assemblies. Its leaders associated themselves with Greek radical left party Syriza. 

It has certainly broken through into the mainstream. But it is one of several new parties in an increasingly fractured landscape.

In many regional elections Podemos ended up vying for third place, closely followed by right wing liberal party Cuidadanos.

Both tapped into anger at corrupt politicians. But the anti Catalan independence Cuidadanos represents a bid to save the status quo by giving it a new face.

In Barcelona Podemos was part of Barcelona in Common. Its leader Ada Colau—better known for direct actions to stop housing evictions—could soon be mayor. 

Anti-capitalist party CUP also made gains.


In Madrid the coalition debates have been surreal. The Countess and “the Communist”—outgoing Tory mayor Esperanza Aguirre and retired judge Manuela Carmena of Podemos-backed platform Madrid Now—finished almost neck and neck.

Aguirre first called for a grand coalition to stop Carmena “breaking the democratic and Western system”. Then she offered to work with Carmena herself—if she dropped her supposed plan to “constitute soviets in the neighbourhoods”.

The left including Podemos made a big step forward, which can help shape the struggles ahead. 

But the strategy that Podemos’ leadership fought to impose on the party ended up holding it back. 

They recognised that many voters with right wing ideas were also furious with the existing parties. 

They strenuously avoided alienating them—insisting Podemos was “neither left nor right” but of the “people”.

They called for clearing out the ruling “caste”. But they moderated their policies to those once pursued by social democrats. 

There were big debates, and a clampdown on the revolutionary left inside Podemos. But the strategy of looking to the “centre” has come unstuck at both sides.

Around half the people who voted for the radical Madrid Now didn’t vote for Podemos in the regional election.

And Podemos’ embarrassment at its association with the left has been a gift to Cuidadanos, which can honestly say it has none.

With continuing debates inside and outside Podemos, hopefully one thing is becoming clear.

Being against the status quo is a good start. But in a society divided into classes with opposing interests, putting forward an alternative means choosing a side.

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