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Playing a role in the system

Rather than staying on the margin of politics, the 15-M movement must participate in democracy

In the two years that have now gone by since the 15-M popular protest movement first made its appearance, much of the general malaise has found expression in marches and demonstrations in support of the welfare state, with calls for "rebellion" against the political system. These have lately taken the form of protest gatherings in front of the Congress building in Madrid, or the homes of certain politicians. The movement now seems less apolitical than before. Some of its voices have been calling for a democracy in which citizens will count for more, and constitutional reform will be possible. All this implies a certain evolution that is moving away from the anti-system outlook. As was observed on April 25 in the call to "besiege" Congress, the great majority of those who protest peacefully in the streets are not prepared to cross the line into violence.

There is persistent and partly justified criticism of a system geared toward oligarchic parties, and of the legal barriers placed in the way of the emergence of new political groups, as well as the ability Congress has to render popular initiatives inoperative. The problem is that this system, which used to acceptably serve as a channel for economic and social tensions, now appears unable to stop the destruction of jobs, the shrinkage of public services and the absence of future prospects for young people, who are swelling the ranks of protesters in the streets. What's more, many longstanding political debts related to corruption are now "falling due" in the courts.

The situation is ripe for the emergence of new political figures. What is most dangerous about this climate is the gate it opens to opportunism, of both the populist and radicalized kinds; yet this is no reason to fossilize the two-party system.

With the Socialist Party's political capital largely exhausted due to its inept management during the first years of the economic and financial crisis, the Popular Party took the helm, promising an economic overhaul that has not been forthcoming. This has caused disillusionment among the urban middle classes, which voted for the PP in the 2011 elections. The disappointment among those who believed in the PP ought to produce a turn back to the Socialists as the "natural" instrument of the vote against the incumbent government — in the theory, that is, of a two-party system. But the opinion polls show that this is far from being the case, the Socialists still being branded with the stigma of the previous legislature, while its proposals are vague and insubstantial.

Thus we have been seeing a certain upturn in support for minor parties (IU, UPyD) and for some regional nationalists (ERC), as well as a movement that favors abstention. The mainstream currents of Spanish politics need to undertake far-reaching reforms. But, however this may be, we have to prepare for a political system that may well be more dispersed. And the demands of the 15-M movement, including a reform of the electoral law and the call for a suitable framework for open forms of participation, remain present in the background of any plan for social transformation — at least that of the left.

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