The new mayor of the second-largest city in Spain, anti-poverty activist Ada Colau, has described her success in regional and municipal elections as like David beating Goliath.
The Barcelona-born 41-year-old’s breakthrough follows years of campaigning against austerity policies.
Standing up for citizens at risk of eviction in Spain’s mortgage crisis, she wasn’t afraid to use the term ‘criminal’ when addressing the banks.
The philosophy graduate, before becoming candidate for mayor, was the main spokesperson for the citizen’s platform Barcelona en Comú.
As evictions continued, in spite of grassroots protests outside government officials’ homes, she was determined to raise the movement to power to bring change.
Colau said: “I believe it is clear that we are ending a cycle, decades of predictable politics whereby a few big parties dominated, and during which voters cast their ballots every four years feeling that we really weren’t deciding anything.”
Left-wing Catalan parties born from the waves of Spain’s economic crisis channelled people’s discontent, Podemos, Iniciativa per Catalunya, EUiA (Esquerra Unida i Alternativa), Equo et Procès constituent and Colau’s Barcelona en Comú.
She said: “As of today, 25th May, we have to change how we do politics, starting with complete openness, so we can know everything, absolutely everything going on in administration, everything that was stolen, all the high positions in the civil service controlled by the political parties. All of that must be put in order.”
Colau’s campaigning made direct contact with voters, building on her experience mobilising citizens to resist established structures. She also appeared with Indignados movement figures fighting inequality and corruption, and former Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica, once an urban guerrilla fighter.
Barcelona en Comú‘s plans include enshrining basic social rights and eliminating political privileges.
Our correspondent in Barcelona Francisco Fuentes summed up: “Many towns and regions in Spain now have new faces, of people who never imagined that they would go into politics. Thanks to these elections the time has come for dialogue and agreements.”
To help us understand the local and regional elections in Spain, Madrid correspondent Carlos Marlasca talked to Fernando Vallespín, who is a political science professor and analyst with the Autonomous University in Madrid. They met up at the renowned Ortega y Gasset Foundation in the Spanish capital.
Fernando Vallespín said: “There are two main things. One is the rather spectacular loss of the governing Partido Popular’s political power. The other is the symbolic value of success in Madrid and Barcelona of these citizens’ platforms [they are not even parties] that have competed with the big parties. In Madrid they were almost the voters’ first choice, and in Barcelona they are.”
Two women, one a field activist, Ada Colau, the other a prestigious former magistrate, Manuela Carmena, ran at the head of two electoral lists, neither with a party positioned to govern in Barcelona or Madrid city hall. They have something in common.
Vallespín said: “Ada Colau is a symbol of the anti-establishment movements during the toughest times of the crisis; so is Manuela Carmena. They are both capable of gathering around them people who have not necessarily voted along similar lines in the past but who represent this new sensitivity that we are all seeing in Spain since the economic crisis.”
The enormous power accumulated by the Partido Popular (People’s Party) led by Mariano Rajoy, since the 2011 elections has been overturned. Neither his campaigning nor an economic uptick could prevent that. Now the government must face the consequences.
In Vallespín’s view, “Either Rajoy radically changes what he is saying and above all significantly reshuffles his cabinet or it will be very difficult for him with the general elections coming up. I think the way he does politics has collapsed in particular in places like Madrid and Valencia, which are the PP’s two great failures in these elections, and also the places where corruption has been the most glaring.”
The Partido Popular lost heavily, along with the other big party, the Socialists, PSOE. In the past, together they accounted for 70% of the votes, yet they have now lost major ground to newcomers. They are forced to take stock.
Vallespín: “I think the results needed to clarify the Spanish political landscape, and they have, at least where the relative power held by the two big parties is concerned, which is around 50%, and in relation with the new parties in terms of the impact in votes. I think the left mobilised but that didn’t translate into more votes going to the parties like Podemos or Ciudadanos. That is to say the result was revolutionary because those parties weren’t in the institutions and now they will be. Yet that was not reflected in opinion polling.”
Finally, we asked Fernando Vallespín what he thought would come out of these elections, since voting in the regions and major Spanish cities gave no one an absolute majority.
Vallespín: “The Spanish voter feels there’s a contradiction that he’s going look at very closely, wary of how the new parties will act when they make pacts with each other. On the other hand, the citizens are in favour of governability and want the parties to make pacts. Therefore, the parties aren’t sure how to behave. There is some sort of political instability, no doubt, and that’s logical, but it will reconfigure after the general elections in November, that’s certain.”