The Spanish center-right Partido Popular (PP) won the 2011 election in Spain with almost 50% of the vote, giving them a comfortable majority in Parliament.   This looks set to change in the upcoming electoral year which is expected to undo the post-Franco two-party political system in Spain.  Two recently formed parties, Podemos, which is closely linked to Greece’s ruling Syriza party, and Ciudadanos have entered the scene and both would likely take over 20% of the vote if the general election were held today. 

The Spanish center-right Partido Popular (PP) won the 2011election in Spain with almost 50% of the vote, giving them a comfortable majority in Parliament. This looks set to change in the upcoming electoral year which is expected to undo the post-Franco two-party political system in Spain.  Two recently formed parties, Podemos, which is closely linked to Greece’s ruling Syriza party, and Ciudadanos have entered the scene and both would likely take over 20% of the vote if the general election were held today. 

 Following the elections, which culminate with a general election in November and began in Andalucía with elections for the regional parliament on March 22nd, the country’s Parliament will be split among four parties.  In the Andalusian election Podemos took 15% of the seats, where they previously had none, even though the Socialist party maintained their majority and control.  Considering that Podemos has been a party for less than a year, its rise is concerning to the traditional PP and Socialist parties.  It is also concerning to the wider Eurozone because of Podemos’ close ties to the anti-austerity left-wing Syriza Party in Greece which, since winning the Greek election two months ago, has proven a difficult Eurozone partner.

 Since Syriza came to power in Greece the Eurozone has suffered in fear of a potential “Grexit” (Greece leaving the euro) and the EU, led by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, has engaged in numerous talks with Syriza and Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to encourage the country to implement austerity programs.  The Greek government was ultimately forced to commit to some austerity reforms at the end of February, right before their bailout funds expired, and Greek finances will be up for review by the “troika” (the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF) in April which will determine whether or not the country receives its next tranche of $7.2 billion in funding. 

 The Tsipras administration won the Greek election by campaigning on demanding a reduction of Greece’s debt but they have since toned down their demands.  Greek government officials have made anti-German statements, for example the finance minister recently demanded that Germany make $170 billion worth of war reparations, but it seems that the Tsipras administration has begun recognizing the error of its ways and has taken a more accommodating tone, perhaps because they realized that without EU funding Greece would be unable to pay pensions and public sector workers by the end of April.  On March 23rd PM Tsipras went to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Merkel and they discussed the Greek liquidity problem and potential Greek reforms, of which tax reform was the most prominent, and committed to a list of proposed reforms by March 30th

 One would expect that the Greek experience would reduce Spanish enthusiasm for a party which refers to Syriza as its Greek “brothers,” and in fact Podemos’ standing in the polls did decrease from 28% of likely voters to 22.5% between February and March. The party sprang from the indignados movement, which started in 2011 when (mostly young) Spaniards protested against rising unemployment and lack of opportunities, as well as perceived corruption and cronyism in the Spanish government.  Since transitioning from movement to party, Podemos enjoyed success in the European Parliamentary elections when it took 8% of the vote in Spain, after being a party for four months.  Podemos’ leader, Pablo Iglesias has called for an end to austerity, corruption, the monarchy, and is in favor of Spanish debt renegotiation with creditors and minimum legal income levels. 

 Considering the Greek experience, where the country has been forced to commit to reforms such as continuing privatizations and raising taxes, it will be interesting to see if Podemos’ appeal continues diminishing by the general election in November or if they rally.  Podemos’ downturn in the polls seems to be favoring the more conservative, but still new and militantly anti-corruption, Ciudadanos, which took 9% of the vote in the Andalusian election and is newer to the national scene than Podemos, even though it has been active in Catalonia for nine years.   Unlike Podemos, Ciudadanos has said that they would continue with austerity reforms and that they are committed to Spain’s role in the EU.  Though the two-party system in Spain appears set to end in November, the party that will end up with a majority remains unknown and Podemos’ rapid climb has slowed down.