Podemos big winner in Spanish elections

Podemos leaders celebrate general election results

By Michael Burke

The outcome of the Spanish general election is unclear as no major party has an overall majority or even an obvious political partner(s) with which it could form one. The poll overall represents a shift to the left, but a shift insufficient to place the anti-austerity forces in government.

Despite widespread media misrepresentation the ruling Partido Popular (PP) was not the winner. It lost more than one-third of its votes from the 2011 elections and its overall majority. Instead the big winner was the anti-austerity party Podemos which did not exist two years ago and yet won over 20 per cent of the vote.

The votes were as follows, in per cent (change from 2011 in brackets): PP 28.7 (-16.3). PSOE, Socialists, 22.0 (-6.8). Podemos 20.7 (n/a), Ciudadanos, Citizens Party 13.9 (n/a). Izquierda Unida, radical socialists and communists, 3.7 (-3.2). ERC, Catalan Republican Left 2.4 (+1.3). Democracy & Freedom, far right, 2.3 (n/a). PNV, timid Basque nationalists 1.2 (-0.1). Bildu, radical Basque nationalists 0.9 (-0.5).

The poll represents a set-back for the right, which had hoped to be able to form a PP-Ciudadanos coalition. Ciudadanos are routinely described as ‘centrist’ which is incorrect. They were formed as austerity and corruption scandals saw PP’s poll rating fall and their anti-corruption rhetoric is entirely false given their aim was always to shore up a right-wing PP government. But a bare majority of the lower chamber of the Cortes requires 176 seats and PP-Ciudadanos combined achieved only 163 seats.

It is far from clear what the composition of the new government will be. The second-placed PSOE did very badly against the unpopular PP. It is a party which embraced Blair’s ‘Third Way’ and is compromised by its own commitment to austerity. It would have to change its spots to form an anti-austerity coalition with Podemos, the ERC and others, and even this could only be a minority government. There has also been talk of a PP-PSOE ‘grand coalition’, but it would be political suicide for PSOE to prop up PP, which can trace its lineage back to Franco’s fascists.

Entirely new parties won a remarkable 37 per cent of the vote. But the bulk of this went to Podemos, making it the main new force in Spanish politics. Growing out of the ‘Indignados’ movement of mainly young people who occupied city squares in 2011, Podemos is a specifically Spanish combination of left and anarchist politics. It clearly took votes from PSOE and from forces of the left, but also brought many new layers into politics.

Podemos should fight for office on a clear anti-austerity basis, demonstrating its willingness to act. But as this is unlikely to be successful, it needs to build a systematic and credible policy alternative to austerity. It should vote down any Government containing PP and try to pressure any other Government in an anti-austerity direction. After Syriza was derailed in Greece, the right across Europe trumpeted that the anti-austerity parties were fantasists who had been routed. In recent weeks the Portuguese and now the Spanish voters have shown that to be completely untrue.