Europe swings right as Spain turns left
by David Eade
Fri 30th May 2014
All the chatter after the European Elections has been about the surge in the far right parties with the National Front in France and UKIP in the UK leading the charge. Yet in Spain the move has been markedly to the left, which might come as a surprise as socialist PSOE’s voted collapsed causing the immediate resignation of party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and his team.
To understand the full impact of what happened on Sunday 25 May you have to go back a week to Sunday 18 May. That is the day Metroscopia published its last opinion poll in El Páis, the last that was allowed before polling day.
What had been known for many months was that the vote of the governing centre right Partido Popular and PSOE would be down on 2009 and both parties would lose seats. The prediction was the PP would take 32 per cent of the vote with PSOE being around 1.5 or 2 per cent behind. In other words both parties would secure around 63 per cent of the vote.
The main beneficiary of PSOE’s loss of support should have been Izquierda Unida's gain – a far left coalition grouped around the Communist Party which expected to see its 2009 support of 3.7 per cent rise to 11 per cent. The UPyD, a social liberal centralist party, was expected to see its vote rise from 2.9 to 4.5 per cent. Apart from the small regional parties which would pick up several seats between them that would be that.
Hence on Monday morning the PP expected to have 21 or 22 seats down two or three from 2009. PSOE would take 18 or 19 compared with its 23. Izquierda Unida would secure five and the UPyD three. Then the earthquake struck.
For the first time in the history of the post-Franco democratic era, the PP and PSOE failed to secure 50 per cent of the vote between them.
Between them they have lost five million votes and 30 percentage points since 2009.
The PP ended up with 16 seats, PSOE with 14, the IU 6, Podemos 5 and the UPyD 4. So of the 45 seats divided amongst the main parties – the right PP won 16, the combined left of PSOE, the IU and Podemos won 25 and the maverick UPyD 4. A massive majority for the left: but wait a minute, who the heck are Podemos?
A good question indeed because in none of the opinion polls did Podemos (We can) even feature. Yet it was now Spain’s fourth largest party and in the Madrid region the third.
A new phenomenon has been born in Spain that was only created in March of this year yet is heavily associated with the 15-M protest movements that started back in 2011-12. It is a party of the left, has its link with Hugo Chávez and is communist.
Its leader is Pablo Iglesias Turrión (pictured), a writer, university professor of political science in Madrid and occasional TV political commentator. He looks more like a flamenco singer than a polished politician.
He and his team brought together around 26 small emerging parties which capitalized on the discontent on the left with PSOE. It used the national network created by the “indignados” and the social media to create a party that collected 50,000 supporting signatures within its first day. Podemos gives a voice to the homeless and jobless: a new political force of the left but not anti-EU.
Iglesias has stated: “It’s citizens doing politics. If the citizens don’t get involved in politics, others will. And that opens the door to them robbing you of democracy, your rights and your wallet.”
The arrival of Podemos has sent shock waves through the left in Spain. PSOE accepted many of its voters had moved to the far left with Izquierda Unida: yet come the Spanish General Election next year it could well be the left would have taken power with a PSOE – IU coalition as at present in Andalucía.
Now the IU is worrying why the Podemos supporters didn’t boost its ranks? The answer is largely because the far left grouping looks old and tired. Podemos is anything but: a true citizen’s movement which has attracted the homeless, the jobless, the young and those who otherwise would have abstained.
Both PSOE and the IU will also be fretting in case Podemos stands in the 2015 General Election. The party could bolster the left vote but like the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo in Italy will it want to back a government of the establishment left: a PSOE – IU coalition? The answer is very probably not.