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Profound change

The outcome of Sunday’s elections heralds the need for cross-party negotiations

The outcome of Sunday’s regional and municipal elections in Spain confirms the beginning of a political overhaul that is defined chiefly by the Popular Party (PP)’s loss of hegemony. The conservatives are yielding the greatest amount of power ever amassed by a party in Spain’s entire democratic history.

Even though it remains the most-voted force at local elections – with a short lead over the Socialist Party (PSOE) – the PP stands to lose much of its territorial power, a fact that undermines its political foundations. Whether the conservatives manage to hold on to power in the cities under its control and in most of Spain’s regional assemblies no longer depends on them so much as on the left’s ability to reach cross-party deals.

A new period is opening up in which it will be necessary to take many opinions and sectors into account

The conservative vote remains strongest at the regional level, a reflection of an inertia that the new parties Podemos and Ciudadanos have not managed to break. But support for the PP has plummeted nevertheless, and even though this trend is not entirely irreversible between now and general elections in the fall, it is a sign of a profound change taking place in this country – a change that the party in central government has been unable to detect.

Meanwhile, the PSOE, which has better chances of securing territorial power insofar as it is able to negotiate with other groups, has achieved results that could be described as satisfactory. However, the Socialists are still forced to keep working on party renewal measures and should not take it for granted that they will be the obvious alternative to the PP at general elections in November.

In this light, from now on the two-party system will have a tough time remaining the central focus of Spain’s political life. Podemos and Ciudadanos have emerged from Sunday’s elections with more vigor than United Left (IU) and Union Progress and Democracy (UPyD) ever had, and the former are in fact taking the latter’s place altogether in the Spanish party system.

While it would be misleading to interpret the outcome as the revolution that some analysts were heralding, it would be equally wrong to take anything away from the strong message of change issued by voters. Ciudadanos has become the third force at the municipal level and will play an important role in the political scene from now on, just as, no doubt, will the Podemos brand.

In Valencia, the rise of the left could oust the PP from a power it has exerted for decades with a suffocating majority

In order to fully define the change underway, it is necessary to wait and see how things play out over the next few weeks, which will be decisive to determine each party’s share of territorial power. The outcome of Sunday’s elections underscores the need for negotiations. Of all possible deals, one stands out above the others: an expected agreement between the Socialists and Podemos. While it is not in their best interest to seem overly united during local and regional government creation, it would be hardly understandable for Podemos to continue blocking processes, as has been the case in Andalusia, which held early elections in March but is stuck in political gridlock over the investiture of Socialist premier-elect Susana Díaz.

The new left-wing options are creating a great rift in Spain’s two most emblematic cities, Madrid and Barcelona, where the PP and the Catalan nationalists of Convergence and Union (CiU), respectively, are losing their hegemony in favor of Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau, whose personalities have risen beyond the groups they were running with. In Valencia, the rise of the left is visible in the results obtained by Compromís, Ciudadanos and Podemos, who could oust the PP from a power it has exerted for decades with a suffocating majority.

And in the Basque city of San Sebastián, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV)’s victory over the radical nationalists of Bildu represents another significant change, albeit of a different nature.

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In Catalonia, the loss of the city of Barcelona by CiU passes the baton over to the activist Ada Colau, head of a coalition of social movements and left-wing radicals. This represents a triple catastrophe for the (moderate) sovereignty drive. On one hand, it loses a city considered instrumental for the regional elections of September, which are being depicted as a popular referendum. On the other, it puts a big damper on CiU’s otherwise victorious outcome in the whole of Catalonia. And there is also a good chance that left-right dynamics could start to successfully replace the dialectical battle between unionists and separatists which currently dominates Catalan politics.

Even though, in global terms, pro-sovereignty forces are slowly advancing in the region, each one of its components has a weak front. The CiU federation led by Artur Mas continues in the lead but loses 5.6 points compared with 2011. And the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) comes in third – after the Catalan Socialists, who did decently but are also the other great losers in the city of Barcelona – after being the most-voted Catalan party at the European elections a year ago. The good results for the separatists are mostly due to efforts by the very radical Popular Unity Candidates (CUP). All of which means that the pro-independence front is fragmented and increasingly radical, although it has not disappeared as some were forecasting.

In conclusion, a new period is opening up in which it will be necessary to take many opinions and sectors into account, and where power will be managed by minority governments or political coalitions. This is the most significant result of the political earthquake that began to be felt at the European elections of May 2014.

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