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Spain's ‘Indignados’ Make the Leap From City Squares to City Councils

Foto de portada en Facebook de la plataforma política Barcelona en Comu. Tomada por Marc Lozano. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Facebook cover photo from the citizen platform Barcelona en Comú. Photo by Marc Lozano. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

May 24, 2015, will be remembered as a historic day in Spanish politics: for the first time, the political movement know as indignados, which occupied the streets across the country in the mass protests that started back in 2011, entered the official realms of power.

For the first time, the two-party system that has characterized Spanish democracy is facing a real challenge. This is a significant development, as Spain is five months away from general elections that will decide which party will rule the country in the coming years.

Spaniards went to the polls late last month to vote in municipal elections to choose the new major in main cities and villages across the country and regional elections to vote for the leader of 13 of its 17 autonomous communities. Alternative political parties, some of them appearing on the ballot for the first time, had considerably strong showings, taking votes from the two major political parties that had until then shared power at the municipal, regional  and central government levels.

The new parties were born as a result of recent social movements against austerity, inequality and corruption, and competed in these elections proposing a profound change to the system. Unthinkable until recently, they managed to rise as an alternative to major traditional parties. They advocate for the end to official auto fleets and speculative projects and support taxing electrical companies, fining banks in possession of empty houses, and auditing the public debt.

The night that election results came in was full of tension and excitement, as races were close in many regions. Although the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) remains as the first force in national politics, it lost 2.4 million voters and some of its strongholds across the country. PSOE, the opposition social democratic party, lost 700,000 voters compared to the municipal elections of 2011, but if it comes to an agreement with other minority parties, it could regain some of its localities.

As none of them obtained the absolute majority required to govern, the parties and citizen platforms that participated in these elections must reach an agreement among each other in the coming weeks to decide who will ultimately govern the autonomous communities and municipalities in Spain.

Two women, two cities, big change

Ada Colau, vencedera de las elecciones municipales de Barcelona, en una asamblea de barrio. Foto BenComu (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ada Colau, winner of the Barcelona municipal elections, in an neighborhood assembly. Photo BenComu (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ada Colau, known for her social activism, especially as part of the anti-eviction organization known as PAH, led a political campaign in recent months representing the citizen platform Barcelona En Comú, which ran in local elections in Barcelona.

She was elected as Barcelona's mayor on May 24, 2015, obtaining 11 councilors. Since her collective did not obtain an absolute majority, it will have to reach an agreement with other political parties in Catalonia to be able to rule the city council.

Manuela Carmena, 71, a former magistrate, ran as representative of the citizen platform Ahora Madrid in that city. She could be the next Madrid mayor, replacing the conservative PP, who has held Madrid as its stronghold for over 20 years.

Again, it will all depend on the agreement they manage to reach, but these citizen platforms advocating social and political changes, and a shift to the left, may rise to power in seven major cities in Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona.

Manuela Carmena, candidata de Ahora Madrid, posible alcadesa de la capital - Imagen Licencia CC

Manuela Carmena, the Ahora Madrid candidate, may be elected mayor- Image under license CC

Here are some Twitter messages from the two candidates, conveying ideas, programs and even support inside and outside the country:

Un honor conversar sobre el futuro d las ciudades con Pepe Mújica, expresidente d Uruguay y un gran referente para mí — Ada #BcnEnComú (@AdaColau) Mayo 22, 2015

It is an honor to discuss the future of the cities with Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica, who is a great example for me

En Barcelona Ganó la gente, GANÓ EL PUEBLO! Este triunfo nos inspira a todos! Un honor haberte conocido @AdaColau

— Residente C13/ RC13 (@Calle13Oficial) Mayo 24, 2015

The people have won in Barcelona! This victory inspires us all! It was an honor to meet you @AdaColau

El mensaje más repetido que estamos recibiendo es: «por primera vez voy a votar con ilusión». Esto ya es ganar. #AhoraYo #Manuela24M

— Ahora Madrid (@AhoraMadrid) Mayo 24, 2015

The most recurrent message we are getting is: “For the first time I am eager to vote.” This is already a victory.

«Los partidos se están quedando muy antiguos y tienen que evolucionar mucho, por eso me gusta una candidatura popular como @AhoraMadrid».
— Manuela Carmena (@ManuelaCarmena) Mayo25, 2015

“The political parties are getting old and have to evolve a lot, so I am all for a citizen platform like AhoraMadrid“.

«La democracia representativa es interesante, pero hay que llenar la vida de esta ciudad de más participación, de democracia directa».

— Manuela Carmena (@ManuelaCarmena) Mayo 22, 2015

“Representative democracy is interesting, but this city needs more citizen participation and direct democracy.”

In this video you can listen to Ahora Madrid's official song:

Podemos (which means “we can”), the new left-wing political party that embodies the 2011 Spanish protests against inequality and corruption, made waves in the last European elections. In the May 2015 elections, taking into account just the autonomous communities results, they managed to obtain 119 regional deputies and are ranked as the third political force in Madrid, Aragon and Asturias. Their rise to power, together with the social movements previously mentioned, undermined the major parties.

The coming weeks will reveal whether Podemos at a regional level and Ahora Madrid and Barcelona en Comú at a local level will take power. This could be dreaded news for the financial sector, large companies and for some parts of the population, but on the other hand, for many Spaniards who want more citizen participation in politics, they represent hope.

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