Spanish voters embraced parties seeking to overturn the political establishment in local elections on Sunday, signaling time might be up for the two-party system that has dominated the country for a generation.
The anti-austerity party Podemos claimed its biggest victory in Barcelona, where activist Ada Colau seized control of city hall. Podemos and Ciudadano — which proposes market-based solutions to Spain’s problems — made advances across the country that will give them a chance to shape policy for the first time.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party suffered its worst result in a municipal election for 24 years, paying the price for four years of austerity and a raft of corruption scandals that left many of its supporters disenchanted. Rajoy has to call a general election by the end of the year.
In Madrid, the People’s Party edged out Podemos by less than 50,000 votes in the race for city hall. With just 21 representatives in the 57-seat chamber, the People’s Party could still be ousted if Podemos can reach a deal with the socialists.
The People’s Party lost 24 lawmakers in Madrid’s regional assembly, but could retain control of the government if it can secure backing from Ciudadanos, which won 17 seats contesting the election for the first time. Podemos got 27.
Rajoy’s party has controlled Madrid City Hall since 1991, making the national capital one of the party’s key strongholds. Madrid is also the birthplace of Podemos, which was set up by a group of political scientists from the city’s Complutense University who drew on support from the “Indignados” movement.
“This is a magical night,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said. “The end of the two-party system is starting to be written in Spain.”
With the new parties still to develop their operations in much of rural Spain, the People’s Party won the most votes overall in the municipal elections. However, its 27 percent support is down from 38 percent in 2011. The Socialists came second with 25 percent.
The People’s Party has claimed at least 34 percent of the votes in all local elections since 1995 so anything below 30 percent would be considered a “severe punishment,” according to research group Floridablanca. It would be “catastrophic” if the party failed to get the 25 percent it won in 1991, the group said on its Web site.
The party might lose a second stronghold in Valencia, where Mayor Rita Barbera of the People’s Party lost half her representatives. While still the biggest party in the city assembly, the People’s Party was reduced to 10 representatives in the 33-seat chamber.
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