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A blow to the two-party system

The results of Sunday’s polls open the door to a broader political spectrum that could define the next general elections in Spain

The outcome of the European elections in Spain represents something of a setback for the two main parties, and even more so for the Socialists (PSOE). At the last EU elections in 2009, 80.9 percent of voters cast their ballots for either the Popular Party (PP) or the PSOE. Yet on Sunday their joint results represented just under 50 percent of the vote.

This loss of votes has essentially benefited left and center groups such as United Left (IU) and Unión Progreso y Democracia (UpyD), but above all Podemos, the new party created by the former Socialist Pablo Iglesias, whose triumphant results ensure five seats in the European Parliament.

This outcome paves the way for a broader political spectrum that could define the next general elections in Spain. It also represents serious punishment for the two parties who have, for decades, taken turns in power, and whom growing numbers of citizens see as part of the problem behind voter disaffection and the economic crisis.

Despite the considerable loss of votes and seats, the PP’s victory is encouraging for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he looks down the last stretch of a bitter political term defined by an adverse economic situation. And this is especially true because the hemorrhage of conservative votes has not been taken advantage of by the main opposition force, the PSOE. The PP would be wrong to make a partial interpretation of its Sunday victory. The dispersal of votes among a wider range of parties indicates that only all-inclusive policies will manage to secure ruling majorities in the near future.

The outcome represents serious punishment for the two parties that take turns in power

The Socialists were the great losers of the night. Their rhetoric about supporting social policies and changing economic tack has not taken hold in the center-left voter base, which instead favored more radical parties. The results are certainly disappointing, and only increase the pressure to forge ahead with plans for deep change within the party.

Meanwhile, the higher voter turnout in Catalonia, which is in the midst of a sovereignty process, deserves analysis of its own. The substantial increase in participation is a result of nationalist parties’ efforts to bring out the vote, and the latter could well view the results as citizen support for the referendum on independence scheduled for November. But the vote also indicates that regional premier Artur Mas of the CiU bloc is slowly handing power over to the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which won the most votes in this region on Sunday. Considering that this is the second election in which CiU has lost votes, this means that the ruling bloc is heading down the same path as the Catalan Socialists, becoming increasingly less relevant as a political force in the region, but at an even faster pace.

At the national level, turnout was low yet still nearly one point higher than five years ago. This is bad news, even if the figure still beats the European average. Politicians have an obligation to work a lot harder to attract citizens towards policies that increasingly determine the fate of European societies.

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