The Rise of Podemos In Spain’s Election Shows How Much Trouble the Establishment Is In

Source: In These Times

From Spain’s “Nueva Política” to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, outsider candidates and parties are catching fire, creating new spaces for political revolution.

Sunday night, Spain’s insurgent left party Podemos (“We can”) made history, breaking the country’s two-party control for the first time since the fall of the Franco dictatorship by winning 20.7 percent of the seats in the Spanish parliament. Though Podemos finished third behind Spain’s two establishment parties, Sunday’s results are a victory for an anti-austerity party that less than two years ago was only an idea in the minds of a handful of activists and academics. Podemos supporters and its leader Pablo Iglesias were energized by the outcome. In the plaza outside of Madrid’s Reina Sofia art museum, Iglesias was greeted by thousands of excited Podemos supporters, who waved balloons in the party’s signature purple shade and chanted “Si se puede!”

Podemos has re-shaped Spanish politics, and the election results solidify the party’s role as a real force in the country’s democracy, despite uncertainty about what the new government will look like (no party won enough seats for an absolute majority). Yet beyond its importance for progressives, Sunday’s election cemented 2015 as the year of the political outsider: Spain’s insurgent centrist party Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) won 13.9 percent of parliamentary seats, meaning that two new parties with leaders under the age of 40 now control over one-third of Spain’s national assembly. The results represent a huge drop in support for Spain’s two establishment parties that have controlled the country for decades—the conservative Popular Party received a third less support than it had in the 2011 elections, and the Socialist Party experienced its worst election in the party’s history. It’s news that should make the political establishment from Europe to the United States tremble in fear.

The outraged

How did such a huge earthquake come to shake up Spanish politics? The backdrop to Sunday’s election and Podemos’ meteoric rise is Spain’s 15M, or Indignados (“Outraged”) movement that occupied city squares across Spain in May of 2011, four months before the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded in the U.S. In Spain, the protests targeted corruption of the political and the financial elite, with chants like “They don’t represent us!” and “Real democracy now!” Following the burst of its massive real estate bubble, Spain was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis, with the highest unemployment rate in Europe and youth unemployment climbing above 50 percent. The depth of its crisis, combined with Spain’s smaller size, meant that 15M changed the fabric of the country’s politics in a much deeper way than Occupy Wall Street did in the United States. After a month of occupying Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, the country’s first and largest occupation, activists decided to leave the square and continue the fight through neighborhood assemblies, immigrants rights groups, public health defense and anti-foreclosure activism like the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH). 15M also re-energized Spain’s many autonomous social centers—occupied or rented spaces that serve as organizing hubs and meeting places for many of the Indignados efforts.

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