The consequences of the May 24 municipal and regional elections became reality on Saturday, as councils up and down the country were voted in. With the polls granting few parties absolute majorities, pacts between Spain’s two major forces – the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) – and emerging groups such as center-right Ciudadanos and anti-austerity Podemos were the key to where power lay.
In the end, Saturday saw a new political era begin in Spain, with a clear shift to the left up and down the country. Wherever a deal between the Socialists (PSOE) and anti-austerity, anti-corruption party Podemos was possible, it became reality. And in provincial capitals where center-right party Ciudadanos held the key to power, that party helped the conservative Popular Party into government.
A total of 8,122 councils were voted in on Saturday, the start of a political shift that will culminate later this year with the general election
A total of 8,122 councils were voted in on Saturday, the start of a political shift that will culminate later this year with the general election. In some councils, the PP had been in power for more than 20 years. But the majorities it once enjoyed were lost at the May 24 polls, where the two parties that have held power on a national scale since Spain’s return to democracy in the early 1980s – the PP and the PSOE – lost significant ground to emerging parties.
Podemos, for example, which backed a number of groups running in the May elections, had a say in the councils formed in Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, A Coruña and Cádiz, all of whom now have mayors that emerged from the social movements that began to take shape in the wake of the 15-M popular protest movement, born in the Spanish capital in 2011. The PP, meanwhile, has held on to 19 provincial capitals, and the PSOE will govern thanks to pacts in 17.
“The PSOE has supported us and in the future we will be able to continue to work together,” said Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, which first came to prominence by winning a number of seats at the 2014 European elections, where it ran on anti-corruption, anti-austerity policies.
The PSOE has supported us and in the future we will be able to continue to work together”
Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos
The most significant new councils include those in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona. In the former, ex-judge Manuela Carmena was voted in as mayor on Saturday, as the head of the Podemos-backed Ahora Madrid party. Carmena fell short of an outright majority, but with the backing of the Socialists was able to attain power in the Spanish capital. The PP’s Esperanza Aguirre – who won the most seats but also fell short of a majority – was unable to reach a pact with any other party in her bid to win power.
In the Catalan capital, former anti-evictions protestor Ada Colau was voted in as mayor thanks to pacts with other leftist groups, ousting Xavier Trias of CiU from the role.
Both women symbolized the success of citizen movements and political change, which emerging parties such as Podemos want to see continue at the general election.
“We want to govern while listening, and for [citizens] to call us by our first names,” said Carmena in her inaugural speech, in the presence of Podemos leaders such as Pablo Iglesias and Iñigo Errejón.
Five of the provincial capitals now have leaders from social movements, who came to power thanks to votes from the PSOE: they are Madrid (Manuela Carmena), Barcelona (Ada Colau), Zaragoza (Pedro Santisteve), A Coruña (Xulio Ferreiro) and Cádiz (José María González).
We want to govern while listening, and for [citizens] to call us by our first names”
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena
In Valencia’s City Council, PP candidate Rita Barberá was ousted from power after more than 20 years as mayor, to make way for Joan Ribó from left-wing coalition Compromís. He secured the mayoral office thanks to support from other leftist groups. In Zamora, years of PP hegemony came to an end as Francisco Guarido, from the United Left (IU) was voted in.
With its eyes on the general election, the PP reacted by lamenting the fact that the most-voted parties would not be taking power – in most cases, that was of course the PP. The conservative group also accused the PSOE of having “radicalized” to reach pacts with the sole aim of throwing out the PP from Spain’s institutions.
The PP has been left with mayors in 19 provincial capitals, compared to the 43 it won in the previous municipal elections. The PP are in power in Málaga, Murcia, Ourense, León, Salamanca, Ávila, Palencia, Cáceres, Badajoz, Logroño, Burgos, Santander, Albacete, Almería, Cuenca, Teruel, Guadalajara, Granada, Jaén, Almería and Burgos. Ciudadanos helped them to power via pacts in the last five on that list.
The PP reacted by lamenting the fact that the most-voted parties would not be taking power
The PSOE, meanwhile, has gone from power in nine capitals to 17: Lugo, Valladolid, Segovia, Toledo, Ciudad Real, Córdoba, Sevilla, Huelva, Alicante, Castellón, Lleida, Huesca, Soria, Palma de Mallorca, Oviedo, Tarragona and Las Palmas. All of them will be governed thanks to pacts with parties linked to Podemos and other leftist parties, apart from Soria where it won an absolute majority.
PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent out a telling tweet about the situation on Saturday afternoon: “Congratulations to councilors from the @PPopular. My support to those who, although they won, have not been able to become mayors due to eccentric and sectarian pacts.”