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Teruel Existe: Meet the provincial party who became Spanish kingmakers

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Tomás Guitarte, deputy of Teruel Existe.
Tomás Guitarte, deputy of Teruel Existe.   -  
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Thomas Holbach - Thomas Holbach
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Up until earlier this year, Tomás Guitarte was a little-known regional politician trying to shine a light on the plight of a small province in Spain's north-eastern autonomous region of Aragon.

But his profile shot up exponentially after the November legislative ballot when electoral arithmetic gave him the power to make or break a new proposed Socialist government.

The threats swiftly started to pour in.

To date, Guitarte, the leader of the Teruel Existe party, has received 10,000 threatening emails, abusive phone calls and a "Guitarte traitor" message has now been painted in his village.

But despite the threats, he was one of 167 MPs who backed the new Spanish government in the January 7 vote, while 165 opposed it and 18 abstained.

'Assert their claims'

Support for the traditional national parties including the Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE) and the right-wing People's Party has been eroding for the past two decades, due in part to the financial crisis and subsequent austerity policies.

This has been to the benefit of smaller, regional parties. The current ruling coalition — the first in Spain's history and led by PSOE — was possible thanks to the support of an anti-austerity alliance spearheaded by Podemos, Teruel Existe, with which they struck a deal and the abstention of Catalan MPs.

These regional parties, Óscar Sánchez, a doctor in Political Communication from the Pontifical University of Salamanca explained to Euronews, were able to "perceive infrastructure deficit in places where votes were the most interesting".

"And as there were areas that remained on a more secondary level, they have decided to assert their claims," he added.

'We have never been prioritised'

Teruel Existe (Teruel Exists) was founded in 1999 to raise the profile of the Teruel province in Aragon. For twenty years it decried the desertification of the province and called on the government to boost infrastructure.

The province is the only one in the country not to be connected to Madrid by train, while a motorway passing through it has yet to be completed despite first being inaugurated in the 1990s.

Successive governments had pledged to do more but few funds have materialised so in 2019, as the fourth election in as many years was inching closer, Teruel Existe changed its structure to enable it to run for seats in the national parliament.

Guitarte is their sole MP.

"In the past 40 years, we have never been prioritised," Guitarte told Euronews.

"The Ministry of Development designed an infrastructure plan to break Teruel's isolation, but then, due to lack of funds, it was never implemented.

"When so many years pass, it can only be seen as a lack of principles," he added.

He argued that the governments always put the needs of big cities including Madrid and Barcelona ahead thus depriving the rest of the territory of opportunities.

“It seems to us that, in Spain, until the social problem does not reach Congress or the Senate, it does not exist. But we are here, putting a voice on it, now we have to see how the Chambers respond ”, he went on.

In exchange for Teruel Existe support, the government has pledged to put forward concrete measures to combat the province's desertification. These include finishing the A68 motorway and improving rail travel.

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