The arrival of new parties with young, connected leaders has thrown Spain’s election campaign into rock ’n’ roll mode as voters better-used to staid politics discover their candidates singing on TV, posing in glossies or commenting on soccer broadcasts.
The Podemos and Ciudadanos parties burst onto the scene on the back of a devastating crisis that left many Spaniards fed up with mainstream politics, and polls indicate the two will attract a huge number of votes in the general elections on Sunday next week.
At home both on chat shows and social networks, their leaders are a constant presence in Spanish households, forcing even the nation’s prime minister to embrace US-style pop politics.
“It’s exhibitionism,” said Iker Merodio, founder of political communication firm Soluciones Comunicativas. “This campaign is more televised [than previous ones], but not necessarily for the best, because what we see doesn’t necessarily mean a valuable political point will be announced.”
And so it was that Pablo Iglesias, the pony-tailed, 37-year-old leader of Podemos, took out his guitar and strung a tune dedicated to “all those women who are with idiots and should leave them” on a popular talk show.
Or that Albert Rivera, the telegenic, 36-year-old head of Ciudadanos, posed for Glamour magazine in a black leather jacket, his motorcycle helmet in hand.
“These are leaders ... who are way more accustomed to pop politics, or appearing in the media, particularly television,” said Xavier Peytibi, a political communication consultant.
None of it “really has much to do with politics, but it is useful to get close to a large majority of the population, which became very de-politicized after the economic crisis.”
This “exhibitionism” — as well as the parties’ promise of change — have had their effect, with polls predicting that Ciudadanos will give the long-established ruling Popular Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) a run for their money at the elections, with Podemos not far behind.
Even the Popular Party has had to adapt.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, for instance, was seen emulating US first lady Michelle Obama on a chat show, performing a choreographed dance to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk.
Perhaps most surprising of all, 60-year-old Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy himself, who is running for re-election, has suddenly embraced television.
The man who once conducted press briefings via a plasma screen has sat down on the couch of TV host Bertin Osborne for a heart-to-heart — divulging such tidbits as the time he bumped into US President Barack Obama in a South African gym — and provided soccer commentary live on radio.
According to ABC daily, which is close to the Popular Party, Rajoy only gave two television interviews in the two years after he came to power in 2011.
Now, he is accumulating them, although he was heavily criticized for refusing to appear in a debate with Iglesias, Rivera and Pedro Sanchez, the 43-year-old PSOE leader nicknamed “El Guapo” — or “Handsome.”
More than just a show, the emergence of the new parties has fundamentally upset politics in Spain.
Podemos emerged two years ago, riding a wave of discontent over economic inequalities, budget cuts and corruption scandals, particularly among the nation’s 7.5 million voters aged under 35.
Ciudadanos, which was founded in 2006, truly started making a mark this year — carried by a similar swell of disillusion.
For Merodio, these new leaders “make it possible for younger people to feel some affinity with what politicians say.”
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