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Spain ushers in new era of political pact making

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Spain ushers in new era of political pact making
Manuela Carmena of Ahora Madrid will likely become mayor after seeking an alliance with socialists. Photo: Pedro Almestre / AFP
08:48 CEST+02:00
The success of radical upstart parties in Spain's local elections means Spain is facing an era of coalitions - a strange new world for the country's two traditional ruling parties.

By voting in local elections for upstart parties that vow to fight corruption and an economic downturn, Spanish voters will force their politicians to learn to form coalitions, analysts say.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party suffered huge losses in Sunday's regional and local polls ahead of a year-end general election and the main opposition Socialist party failed to capitalise on its adversary's weakness.

The two parties, which have alternated in government for nearly four decades, captured a combined 52 percent of the vote nationwide, down from 65 percent four years ago.

They lost support to new upstart parties, the centre-right Ciudadanos party which went national in 2013 and the anti-austerity Podemos, an ally of Greece's Syriza, which was set up last year.

Podemos came in third place in 12 of the 13 Spanish regions that voted on Sunday alongside more than 8,000 towns and cities, boosted by its promise to fight economic inequality and corruption.

Ciudadanos came in third place in the municipal elections, the first time it has fielded candidates for mayor.

And in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona "citizens platforms" backed by Podemos which were born out of the "Indignado" ("Outraged") protests that swamped Spanish streets during the recent years of economic crisis are set to take power.

In Barcelona Ada Colau, who became a household name in Spain after she led a movement against housing evictions during the economic crisis, won 11 of the 41 seats at the municipal assembly, beating the incumbent Xavier Trias, a conservative Catalan separatist.

Colau said Monday she would favour the Socialists and two Catalan separatist parties – the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party and the far-left CUP party – when seeking accords.

"This does not mean that we can't have occasional agreements on key issues" with other parties, she added.

Ahora Madrid, the citizens platform that backed an ex-communist retired judge for mayor, captured 20 seats in the Madrid municipal assembly, just one less than the Popular Party which has governed the Spanish capital for over two decades.

If it forms an alliance with the Socialists, who won nine seats, they would have a majority.

New politics of negotiation

The leader of the Socialists at the national level, Pedro Sanchez, said his party would ensure that "progressive governments" emerged from the local elections.

"We are seeing a fascinating evolution which could lead to an update of the political system, which is more plural just as Spanish society is more diverse," said Narciso Michavila, who heads GAD3 polling firm.

"Citizens are ready for this new politics of negotiation, of pacts, of agreements, those who appear not to be ready for it are politicians," said Juan Toharia, the head of Metroscopia.

Spain has little tradition of compromise politics and the results of the polls will likely lead to weeks of negotiations.

"In Spain the one who captures the most votes feels he is entitled to govern, even without an absolute majority," said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, senior fellow and head of the Madrid office of the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Even Spain's new parties seem to have a hard time adapting to the new approach.

The leader of Podemos, pony-tailed political science professor Pablo Iglesias, has set as its target as winning the next general election.

The head of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, said Monday, "the age of absolute majorities is over" and insisted on the need for agreements between parties.

But at the same time he ruled out entering into coalitions that his party would not lead.

The difficulty that parties will have in reaching pacts can already be seen in Spain's most populous region, Andalusia, which held its parliamentary elections in March.

Two months later the Socialist candidate who won the most votes still has not been able to persuade the other parties to let her govern with a minority in the regional assembly.

Jose Fernandez-Albertos, a political scientist at state research institute CSIC, said he "did not rule out at all the possibility that certain regions will have to call fresh elections, due a failure to reach an agreement on forming a government."

Three-quarters of Spanish voters, 76 percent, would prefer to see the Popular Party and the Socialists share power with other parties at the national level, according to a recent Metroscopia poll.

"Citizens are ready for this new politics of negotiation, of pacts, of agreements, those who appear not to be ready for it are politicians," said Juan Toharia, the head of Metroscopia.

Spain has little tradition of compromise politics and the results of the polls will likely lead to weeks of negotiations.

"In Spain the one who captures the most votes feels he is entitled to govern, even without an absolute majority," said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, senior fellow and head of the Madrid office of the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Even Spain's new parties seem to have a hard time adapting to the new approach.

The leader of Podemos, pony-tailed political science professor Pablo Iglesias, has set as its target as winning the next general election.

The head of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, said Monday, "the age of absolute majorities is over" and insisted on the need for agreements between parties.

But at the same time he ruled out entering into coalitions that his party would not lead.

The difficulty that parties will have in reaching pacts can already be seen in Spain's most populous region, Andalusia, which held its parliamentary elections in March.

Two months later the Socialist candidate who won the most votes still has not been able to persuade the other parties to let her govern with a minority in the regional assembly.

Jose Fernandez-Albertos, a political scientist at state research institute CSIC, said he "did not rule out at all the possibility that certain regions will have to call fresh elections, due a failure to reach an agreement on forming a government."

 

By Patrick Rahir / AFP

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