Spain’s newcomer parties challenging political order

TWO new political parties in Spain are mounting an unprecedented challenge to the governing Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party – which for four decades have dominated Spanish politics.

Albert Rivera is the popular leader of Ciudadanos. Picture: Getty
Albert Rivera is the popular leader of Ciudadanos. Picture: Getty

A poll published on Sunday in El Pais newspaper placed the radical-left Podemos (“We Can”) and the grassroots movement Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) neck-and-neck with their established rivals ahead of next month’s local and regional elections. The four were separated by less than three percentage points.

Political analysts have stated this is the latest in a sea change across Europe, as voters express frustration with traditional parties in the wake of the continent’s financial crisis.

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“The political effects of the crisis are going to be long-lasting,” said Antonio Roldan of think-tank Eurasia Group.

“There is definitely a deep transformation.”

Greece’s Syriza government – a coalition of the radical left and nationalist right – was elected in January on promises to scrap austerity measures imposed in return for Greece’s two €240 billion (about £173bn) international bailouts.

In France’s local elections last month, voters turned their back on the governing Socialists, who recorded their fourth electoral defeat since president François Hollande took power in 2012. The government’s failure to revive the ailing economy and lower the 10 per cent unemployment rate sent voters to the right, with the far-right National Front winning 22 per cent of the vote.

Ahead of the 7 May general election in Britain, polls indicate that voters are defecting to alternatives such as the Scottish National Party and Ukip. In Spain, the European Union’s fifth-largest economy, where national elections are due by the end of the year, an unemployment rate of almost 24 per cent and a series of political corruption scandals have fuelled public discontent.

The rise of Podemos, which has links to Greece’s Syriza, is greatly due to the charisma of its pony-tailed leader, Pablo ­Iglesias, 36, a political science professor. He is from the working-class Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas, he prefers jeans to suits and has said Spain is “run by the butlers of the rich”.

Fellow newcomer Ciudadanos, a centrist party whose name means “Citizens”, grew out of a gathering of Catalan intellectuals. It has also benefited from a popular leader, Albert Rivera, 35.

Investors are watching Spain closely for signs that political turmoil may send new financial shockwaves through the eurozone, said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence, a political and business risk consulting firm. “Investors just don’t want to see another Greece, to put it bluntly,” he added.