Voters in Spain showed growing support for several new political parties in local elections, including the anti-austerity Podemos. Exit polls indicated grassroots parties were challenging longtime political heavyweights.
While exit polls and early vote counts put the governing conservative Popular Party (PP) on top in 11 of the 13 Spanish regions holding local elections on Sunday, newcomer parties including the anti-austerity Podemos (We Can) and market-friendly Ciudadanos (Citizens) earned seats in almost all the regional governments.
Upsets were expected in the major cities of Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, a poll by television channel Antena 3 indicated the PP (whose candidate for mayor, Esperanza Aguirre, is pictured at a polling station above) was set to lose control of city hall, which it had run for more than two decades, to a leftist platform supported by Podemos. Another exit poll, by TNS Demoscopia for broadcaster Telemadrid said the grouping, named Ahora Madrid ("Madrid Now"), was tied with the PP and threatened to snatch away its majority.
In Barcelona, a coalition led by former community activist Ada Colau backed by Podemos was poised to beat the ruling conservative Convergence and Union (Convergencia i Unio, CiU) Catalan nationalist party.
Challenge to ruling party
With 80 percent of the votes counted the result looked to be the worst for the PP in more than 20 years – and perhaps signal a drastic change in how Spanish politics operates. Although the PP won more votes than any other party, it and the rival Socialists looked like they would not achieve overall majorities in most areas. That would require the two major parties to negotiate coalitions with minor parties in many areas.
"It's a drubbing for the PP. The fear factor did not come into play and people voted for Podemos and Ciudadanos," Jose Pablo Ferrandiz of pollster Metroscopia said, according to Reuters.
Spaniards took to the polls Sunday to choose representatives for more than 8,100 town halls and parliaments in 13 of the country's 17 regions. The local elections are viewed as an indicator of how national elections, which are scheduled for November, may pan out.
A jobless rate of 23-percent, cuts in public services and corruption scandals involving mainstream parties were all seen as reasons for voters developing an attitude for change and turning towards the "Indignado" movement, a blanket term for the protest movement which partly inspired the worldwide "Occupy" movement and has evolved into a political force.
Similar phenomena have been observed in other southern European countries like Greece, where the left-win Syriza party won nationwide elections earlier this year.
Voter turnout in Spain remained about the same as the last local elections four years ago, at 49 percent.
se/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)