Ciudadanos and Podemos: A new era in Spanish politics?

Podemos campaign workers. European elections, May 2014. [Podemos Uviéu/Flickr]

Ahead of municipal elections in Spain on May 24, the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and leftist Podemos (We Can) parties will try to break the monopoly on power of the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) and the centre-left Socialists (PSOE). EURACTIV Spain reports.

The poll will be a rehearsal for national elections, which will take place in either December, or early January. Some surveys show Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s PP could win by a narrow margin. Others see a coalition between the PSOE and Podemos taking office.

An anti-austerity party often compared to Syriza, Podemos is now a key force in Andalusia’s parliament, after winning 15 seats in regional elections, held on 22 March. Ciudadanos, which won 9 seats in the same election, find themselves in a parallel situation, on the right.

Podemos, whose leader thirty-six year old leader, Pablo Iglesias, is frequently described as a “populist” who is “too close to Venezuela’s dictatorship”, received about 8% of Spanish votes in the European Parliament elections in 2014. Podemos was only four months old at the time, having been founded in the aftermath of the 2011–12 protests against inequality and corruption.

>>Read: Socialists win Andalusia election, newcomer Podemos scores high

Iglesias always says that he wants “to change the rules of the political game” and bridge the gap between the social majority and a privileged minority. “Between the people and the caste,” he says.

The end of Spain’s two-party system?

The surge of Podemos and Ciudadanos is interpreted by many political analysts in Spain as “the beginning of the end” of Spain’s two-party political system.

“There may be people who will read the news tomorrow and think they’ve won,” said thirty-five year old Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, in March. “But we all know the two-party system has died,” he added.

Spanish citizens are looking for fresh ideas. Corruption cases, and high unemployment, at almost 25% (with over half the country’s youth without work), are two of the main challenges political parties must now tackle.

Crisis in Podemos, opportunity for Ciudadanos

But a new, unexpected, development in Podemos may empower Ciudadanos: the resignation, on 30 April, of Juan Carlos Monedero, one of Podemo´s cofounders. Monedero accused the party of starting to resemble the established parties it criticizes. “I feel like getting my own voice back, rather that remaining a cog in the party’s wheels,” he said.

Monedero’s resignation is the first major internal crisis in the party, founded just 15 months ago. According to El Pais, Monedero was involved in a scandal for failing to declare 425, 000 euros that he allegedly obtained from advisory work for the government of Venezuela, and other Latin American countries.

“The increase (in turnout expectations) for Ciudadanos is directly proportional to the reduction for Podemos,” said Rivera, after Monedero’s resignation.

>>Read: Spain’s new leftist party takes lead in poll

According to a survey by Metroscopia, Ciudadanos has had an “attraction effect” on people who, just a few months ago, were inclined to vote for Podemos because they didn´t want to vote for the PP or PSOE.

Both parties compete for the same political niche: young urban professionals with a great desire of change, who are opposed to the traditional PP-PSOE duopoly.

A key element in that process was Ciudadano’s gradual shift from being considered a purely Catalan party (the party “Ciutadans” was founded in 2006 in Barcelona as centre-left, and non-nationalist), to becoming a national party.

Metroscopia analysts say Ciudadanos has attracted many former PP voters who saw in Podemos the only way to “punish” the conservatives, but now prefer to vote for a more moderate alternative, rather than for a radical left-wing party. “I understand they (Podemos) are nervous”, Rivera said recently.

However, Podemos seems to be not be affected by Ciudadnos’ growth in popularity. Iglesias repeats again and again that his main target is to defeat the PP, and that he is not interested in a battle with Ciudadanos.

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