Supporters of the Madrid Now! ticket await the results of the regional and municipal elections in Madrid, May 24, 2015.
For more on politics in Spain, click HERE. See also Spain: 'Barcelona Together' and the fight for people-first city councils"
May 27, 2015 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
-- Once the results of Spain’s May 24 local and regional elections became known
the main lesson for the anti-austerity and anti-capitalist left was simply and starkly
obvious: the more united and more involving of ordinary people its election
campaigns were, the greater its gains and the greater the losses for the
Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)—its main rival for the popular and
working-class vote—and for the ruling conservative People’s Party (PP).
Where the two main poles of the radical left in the Spanish
state—Podemos and the United Left (IU)— managed to merge their forces in
projects organised not as alliances between party apparatuses but as participatory
citizens’ electoral campaigns, the results were at times little short of
These citizen’s movements managed to win the city councils of the
country’s two most important cities, Madrid and Barcelona, as well as A Coruña
and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Zaragoza in Aragon and Cadiz in
Those breakthroughs have stirred up politics in Spain like nothing since
the birth of the indignados movement
in May 2011. The right-wing media headlines read: “Indignados take Madrid” and “Colau okupies Barcelona City Council”.
(In Spanish an okupa is an
anti-eviction squatter, and widely respected anti-eviction activist Ada Colau
will be Barcelona’s first ever woman mayor).
In the celebrations on victory night a popular chant—along with “Si, se puede! [Yes, we can!]”—was “Yes,
you do represent us!”, a positive
reworking of the indignado chant
first heard in May 2011: “They don’t represent us!”
These triumphs represent the high-tide mark of an election that has seen
the ruling People’s Party (PP) vote fall to 27% (from 37.54% in 2011) and the
opposition PSOE vote drop to 25% (from 27.03%). Since the last local elections the
PP has lost around 2.5 million votes, while the PSOE has lost 700,000. The
all-of-Spain vote for Citizens, the right wing “anti-Podemos”, was only 6.55%.
At the same time, in the 13 of the country’s 17 autonomous communities
(states) where elections were also held, Podemos made its debut in national
Spanish politics with a vote of between 8.83% and 20.5%, averaging 14.46%. (In
the local government elections, Podemos did not stand in its own name, but as
part of broader coalitions.)
Nonetheless, despite these breakthroughs, a majority of the country’s provincial
capitals and 11 of the 13 autonomous communities will continue to be run by
either the PP or PSOE. The possible exceptions are the Canary Islands, which may
continue to be governed by regionalist force the Canary Coalition (CC) and
Navarra, where the local branch of Podemos holds the key to whether a four-party
left and centre-left coalition can be built to replace the corrupt and
reactionary regime of the incumbent Union of the People of Navarra (UPN).
This result comes from the unevenness of the leftward moving tide. It
has been strong enough to wipe out all the PP’s previous absolute majorities,
but not so strong as to remove the PP as the party still with the relative
majority in 37 of the Spanish state’s 50 provincial capitals. Nonetheless, in
many regions and cities the conservative ruling force is now vulnerable to
losing government to left and centre-left coalitions—provided these can be
In most of these anti-PP replacement alliances the PSOE will be the
leading partner, even though in one at least, the Community of Valencia, there
will a struggle to see which force will be hegemonic, the PSOE’s local
affiliate, the Socialist Party of the Valencian Country (PSPV) or the regionalist
Valencian force Commitment.
In brief, the shift on May 24 was powerful enough to wash away much of the
PP’s municipal base of influence and perks, but not so uniformly powerful as to
lift the radical left above the PSOE except in a minority of cases—very important
and exemplary though these are.
Where Podemos and IU ran in competition, either alone or behind their
own particular brand of “broad” campaign, their vote was sometimes good, sometimes
quite disappointing, and sometimes downright disastrous, especially for IU. Their
combined vote was very rarely big enough to overtake both the PP and the PSOE,
two exceptions being the autonomous community of Asturias and the provincial
For a bigger breakthrough to have happened, there would have had to been
more campaigns of the kind that won Barcelona and Madrid, at both city and autonomous
community level. However, the opportunity to surpass both PP and PSOE still
remains—on condition that the lessons of this election can be learned and
applied before the vital November national elections.
At the level of the Spanish state, the vote to the left of the PSOE was
between 20% and 25%.
This figure is based on the 4.76% vote in the municipal elections for IU,
the 9.9% for various left and centre-left nationalist and regionalist parties
and the all-of-Spain Green party Equo[i],
and some part of 15.36% won by “others”. “Others” covers some of the citizens’
lists that represented some degree of left unity and/or bottom-up organising.
Podemos managed to overtake the PSOE in only one autonomous community,
Navarra. It scored 13.7% to the PSOE’s 13.4% (in fourth and fifth position
behind the ruling right-regionalist Union of the People of Navarra, the
centre-left regionalist Geroa-Bai and the left-nationalist EH Bildu).
However, Podemos also beat the PSOE in the Basque Country (Euskadi),
where in the elections for the three regional deputations into which Euskadi is
divided, it became third force behind the ruling right-nationalist Basque
Nationalist Party (PNV) and EH Bildu. Podemos won 13.93% against the PSOE’s
Podemos came closest to the PSOE in Aragon (20.5% to 21.4% for the PSOE),
the Balearic Islands (14.7% to 18.95%) and the Madrid region (18.6% to 25.5%).
In Asturias, the combined IU and Podemos vote (30.9%) was greater than the
Thus, where the left tide reached its high point, the heaviest defeats were
also inflicted on the two-party Spanish establishment (dubbed in indignado circles as the “PPSOE”).
For example, in Barcelona, the most left-wing city in the Spanish state,
the total vote to the left of the PSOE’s Catalan sister party, the Party of
Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), leaped from 17.93% in the 2011 council poll to
43.64%, the combined score of Barcelona Together, the Republican Left of Catalonia
(ERC) and the Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP).
In 2011, these forces had seven seats on the 41-seat city council, today
they have 19. Over the same period the combined vote for the PSC and PP has
fallen from 39.38% to 18.33% (20 seats to seven).
The leftward surge has also affected the balance of forces within the
bloc of Catalan pro-independence parties—the ERC, CUP and the right-nationalist
Convergence and Union (CiU), ruling in Catalonia and until May 24 running
Barcelona as well.
Before this election the city council in Barcelona, the least nationalist-minded
city of Catalonia, had 14 CiU councilors and two ERC councilors. There were also
five councilors representing the alliance between Initiative for
Catalonia—Greens and the United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA), which supports
a Catalan right to decide and the formation of a Catalan state, but not
necessarily Catalan independence.
After May 24, the Catalan nationalist bloc has 18 councilors (10 CiU, 5
ERC and 3 CUP), while Barcelona Together, which has basically the same orientation
as ICV-EUiA, has 11. Left and centre-left Catalan nationalism is now in a
stronger position against right-nationalism, while those forces supporting a
Catalan right to decide have a clear majority on Barcelona city council for the
first time ever.
In the race for the 57-seat Madrid city council, Madrid Now!, in which Podemos
merged with a series of splits from IU, won 31.8% of the vote (20 seats). This
consisted of the vast majority of those who had voted IU in 2011 and around a
third of those who had voted PSOE in that poll. The Madrid Now! vote more than
doubled that of the PSOE (15.2%).
In Madrid city the left in the broadest sense (including the PSOE) has
won 29 seats against the 28 won by the right (PP 21, Citizens 7), meaning that
retired judge and former labour rights lawyer Manuela Carmena will be the new
mayor of a city that the PP has run for 24 years. During this time it has
become a massive black hole of real estate, banking and party-political
In Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, Zaragoza Together (24.5%), bringing
together Podemos and IU political spheres as well as many non-aligned activists,
will win control of this important industrial city if, as seems likely, it can
convince the PSOE (18.6%) and the left-nationalist Aragonist Union (6.7%) to ally
In Cadiz, the Podemos-inspired ticket For Cadiz, Yes We Can! won 27.9%
of the vote, enough when combined with the PSOE (17.3%) and the IU-inspired
Winning Cadiz Together (8.4%), to end the 20-year rule of the PP.
In Galicia, the most stunning victory was that of Atlantic Tide in A
Coruña, taking 31% of the vote to the PP’s 30.9% and completing overturning the
established Galician pattern of a PP majority being opposed by a minority made
up of the PSOE’s Galician affiliate (Party of Socialists of Galicia, PSG) and
the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG). In the 27-seat council, the Atlantic
Tide’s 10 seats came through the PP losing 4, the BNG 3, and the PSG 2.
Its last seat came from IU, which had joined Podemos, the
left-nationalist Anova, the centre-left nationalist Commitment to Galicia,
Equo, the Galician Ecosocialist Space and the Humanist Party in creating what
is probably the broadest organised left support for a citizens’ electoral
platform in the Spanish state. Indeed, Galicia, with the formation of the
Galician Left Alternative (AGE) in 2012, has been the pioneer of such left
unity and citizen-based organization.
The other extraordinary result in Galicia was in Santiago de Compostela,
where Martiño Noriega, the outgoing mayor of Teo and leader of ANOVA, led the
Open Compostela platform to a 34.58% vote, again ahead of the PP, BNG and PSG.
The PSG vote more than halved from 30.96% to 14. 65% in a city that has never
been governed by any party besides the PP and PSG.
On May 25, PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy finally appeared before the
Spanish national media to explain what had gone wrong: the PP’s good policy
that had rescued Spain from economic disaster had been poorly explained because
he and his ministers had just been too busy saving the country from the
disaster created by their PSOE predecessors. There would be better
communication in future, but no change to the government’s line, no cabinet
reshuffles and he would be its lead candidate in the coming national poll.
The PP rank-and-file, especially those who are about to lose their offices
and cars, will be wondering what planet their leader is living on or what
substances he has been taking.
After May 24, the PP has already lost Extremadura, the Valencian Community
and the Balearic Islands, where it recorded its worst-ever result (28.5%).
Depending on what alliance can be built to its left, it also stands to lose
Castilla-la Mancha (to a PSOE-Podemos alliance), Aragon (to a four-party
alliance of PSOE, Podemos, IU and the Chunta) and Cantabria (to an alliance of the
Cantabrian Regionalist Party, PSOE and Podemos). Its reactionary regional ally
in Navarra, the UPN, could fall to an alliance of GeroaBai, Bildu, IU and
Podemos provided Podemos can bring itself to ally with Bildu).
In the Madrid regional government, Castilla y León, Murcia and La Rioja,
where it enjoyed absolute majorities before May 24, the PP will now be
dependent on Citizens as its lifeline. But at what price will Citizens give
this support, vulnerable as it is to the jibe that it is just the PP with a new
The same fate hangs over the PP in around half of the provincial
capitals in which it preserved a relative majority. Besides the provincial capitals
already mentioned, the conservatives have already lost or could readily lose 18
and they will be dependent on Citizens to come to their rescue in another 16.[iii]
The UPN is on the ropes in the capital of Navarra (Irunea-Pamplona).
What we are seeing is the beginning of the end of the PP’s semi-feudal
strongholds—like Galicia, Castilla y Leon—those regions and cities where it has
governed unquestioned for two decades or more, and where its rule has up until
now been underpinned by roughly the same social strata as sustained the Franco
dictatorship. March 24 shows that the six years of economic crisis are creating
the social turmoil that is now beginning to destabilise previously unbreakable
For many voters deserting the PP Citizens will be their first port of
call. Yet not for everyone: at these elections, while the PP vote fell 10.6%,
Citizens only managed to win 6.55%.
Immediately it became clear that she was doomed after two decades of
flamboyantly corrupt rule, the PP mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberà, issued a desperate
plea to the local PSOE leader Ximo Puig to join her in a grand alliance against
the “radical extremism” represented by Compromise and Podemos. Her offer was declined.
The PSOE leadership knows that
the tide of sentiment is flowing leftwards, and so it is talking left. “The
PSOE will participate in the creation of left governments that will be the
beginning of the end of the PP nightmare”, said PP leader Pedro Sánchez after
the party leadership had studied the results of May 24. The idea is to try to
reinforce the claim that the PSOE is the only practical governmental
alternative to the PP, and to put the pressure on Podemos not to stop the
creation of such administrations.
Already, two months after the March Andalusian election, where the PSOE
won a relative majority, a government has not been formed, because neither
Podemos, Citizens nor the PP want to be seen to be responsible for returning
the PSOE to power. As a result, Andalusian premier Susana Diaz is increasing
her rhetoric about “an objective alliance” between Podemos and the PP, and
threatening to go to another election.
Because the PSOE vote declined less than the PP’s it has been possible
to present its result as a victory. It has won back Extremadura and increased
its vote in Asturias, where it was governing. It has a good chance of becoming
the leading party in coalitions governing the Valencian Community, the Balearic
Islands, Aragon and Castilla-La Mancha. It could govern in coalition with on the
Canary Islands, and might even be able to persuade Citizens not to let the PP
continue to rule in the greater Madrid region.
However, the PSOE has serious problems, precisely in the regions where
the leftward shift was greatest. On Barcelona city council, which it
administered for 32 years, and where it was still the second party in 2011, it
is now fifth. In the parliament of the Community of Valencia, its vote fell
from 28.8% to 20.3%, as it was almost overtaken by Commitment (18.2%). A
similar fall took place in Aragon (down 8.6%), in parallel with the strong
campaign of Podemos. In an election with the PP in free fall, the PSOE could
only manage to increase its vote in one autonomous community, Murcia.
Podemos and IU
While the result of Podemos was not the huge leap projected when it was
briefly leading in some national opinion polls at the beginning of the year, it
is still represents a very big advance for the left as a whole, with its
epicentre in the winning citizens’ platforms already mentioned.
However, the result does leave Podemos with an urgent debate about how
to generalise the best results with which it has been associated: how can it
best contribute to building a more powerful radical left? By continuing to run
its own name, or by extending the Barcelona Together example to other political
contests? This will rapidly become a burning question in Catalonia, where many
will be asking an obvious question as the September 27 election-referendum on
Catalan independence approaches: “If Barcelona Together, why not Catalonia
This is also a question for IU, which, despite all its difficulties,
held up at the municipal level (losing only 24 of its 2249 councilors while
gaining others as part of broader platforms). However, it lost 26 of its 35
regional MPs and representation in four regional parliaments. Alberto Garzon,
the IU’s lead candidate in the forthcoming national elections commented: “Change
will not be possible without popular unity. That is the obvious lesson.”
This is a rough initial account of the May 24 municipal and regional
election in the Spanish state, and will be developed over the coming weeks. One
particular area that needs more study is the result for left nationalist
forces, marked by a leap forward in Catalonia (tripling of the number of CUP
councilors), but with a setback in Euskadi, where Bildu lost to the PNV in Donostia-San
Sebastian and the Guipuskoa region.
It should not finish without a celebration of the political demise of
some very nasty characters on the Spanish political scene. The leftward shift
in these elections has had as a positive by-product the near destruction of the
Union for Progress and Democracy (UPyD), with its obsessional rant against the
Basque and Catalan “threat”, as well as the decimation of the racist and
xenophobic Platform for Catalonia. In addition, the PP, reduced in Catalonia
from 474 councilors to 214 (less than the CUP) will lose working-class and
migrant Badalona, which its anti-immigrant mayor Xavier Albiol had promised to
“clean up”. Now a four-party left and centre-left coalition really will clean
up Badalona—by removing the PP and Albiol from its town hall.
The results of May 24 were the first step in a democratic revolution by
a people who have been put through misery by six years of economic and social crisis.
It opens the door to their taking the next step, the replacement of Spain’s corrupted
political system by one rebuilt democratically by the mass of active citizens,
of which Barcelona Together, Madrid Now!, Atlantic Tide and the other
successful citizens’ platforms have been inspiring harbingers.
[Dick Nichols is the European correspondent
of Green Left
Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. This article will be updated over the coming
[i] Namely Republican Left of
Catalonia, 2.3%; Commitment (from Valencia), 1.71%; Entesa (Initiative for
Catalonia and its allies), 1.64%; EH Bildu (Basque Country and Navarra), 1.38%;
the Galician Nationalist Bloc, 0.85%; Equo (all-Spanish green party), 0.25% ; the
Aragonist Union (Chunta), 0.19%; Irabazi (alliance of the United Left and Equo
in the Basque Country and Navarra) 0.17% ; El Pi (centre-left Balearic
regionalist), 0.14%; GeroaBai (centre-left Navarra regionalist), 0.13%; and
[ii] Segovia, Vallodolid and Zamora (to IU supported
by the PSOE), in Castilla y León; Oviedo (in Asturias); Toledo and Ciudad Real
in Castilla-La Mancha; Palma, Mahon and Ibiza, on the Balearic Islands;
Valencia, Castellon and Alicante (in the Valencian Community); Huesca (in
Aragon); Las Palmas (on the Canary Islands); and Sevilla, Huelva and Cordoba (in
[iii] Burgos, Avila, Salamanca, Palencia and León (in
Castilla y León); Albacete, Cuenca and Guadalajara (in Castilla-La Mancha); Teruel
(in Aragon); Badajoz and Caceres (in Extremadura); Logroño (in La Rioja);
Santander (in Cantabria); and Jaén, Almeria and Málaga (in Andalusia).