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Spain diverted from deadlock by dreadlocks

As the left and the right vie for a mandate to govern, there's no shortage of talking points in Spanish politics. That said, controversy over dreadlocks - and a baby - in parliament, provide an interesting distraction.

A photograph of Podemos deputy Alberto Rodriguez, sporting Rastafarian locks as he strode past a solemn Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, seemed to neatly capture the new political reality.

But what some saw as a breath of fresh air, evidence that Spain is entering a new phase in its democracy, has scandalized others.

A lot has changed in Spain's parliament. The arrival in large numbers of two new kids on the block - the radical left Podemos and the right-wing anti-corruption Ciudadanos party - has led to political stalemate in Spain.

Three parties would be needed to form a government and, so far, that isn't happening.

Yet, even as King Felipe VI prepared for talks on Monday that are aimed at resolving the impasse, the hot topic of debate in Spanish media was Rodriguez's dreadlocks. Some from Spain's Popular Party have voiced fears that the Canarian politician's dreadlocks could pose a hygiene problem.

"I don't care if they have dreadlocks. But I want them clean so that they don't give me lice," said Celia Villalobos, from Rajoy's conservative Popular Party.

That quip stirred a debate in the Spanish media about whether Rodriguez's hair might harbor health risks.

Another dreadlocked Podemos lawmaker, Miguel Ardanuy, used the hullabaloo as an opportunity to hit back at Villalobos and her party. "If only the party of Celia Villalobos were half as clean as my dreadlocks," he joked.

Rodriguez condemned the attention being paid to his tresses as a "political-media circus," preferring to concentrate on other issues, saying the polemic merely confirmed "what stuff these people are made of."

The furore provoked some imaginative tweeting, with one Twitter user imagining the lawmaker as a robot.

Another considered how Rajoy might look with a dreadlock makeover.

Dreadlocks weren't the only thing about the new arrivals that caused consternation. The fact that some of the new arrivals wore sports shoes, sweaters and jeans, drew the ire of conservatives.

Baby of the house

Of all the youthful faces at the opening of the Spanish parliament, the youngest was six-month-old Diego - son of deputy Carolina Bescansa.

Along with the dreadlocks, the presence of a baby in the chamber provided the day's other main talking point. Bescansa held Diego on her lap throughout the session, even carrying him with her to vote for the parliamentary speaker.

Diego proved a hit with many, being cuddled affectionately by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and even garnering one vote for the speaker's position.

Not everyone was happy, with the PP's Beatriz Escudero condemning Bescana's actions as arrogance via Twitter.

"Every mother and father gets organized to go to work," Escudero complained. "Podemos thinks that it's above the institutions."

Senior PP official Javier Maroto also vented his spleen. "This is not femininism, conciliation or progress," he tweeted.

While Bescansa herself claimed she was seeking to make a point about working mothers, some accused her of attention-seeking - pointing out that the Spanish parliament has its own crèche.

Deeper divides

While seemingly trivial, shock at the new arrivals' demeanor and behavior reflects the deep political divisions that have hampered the formation of a working coalition government.

While the PP and Podemos appear poles apart, new-era conservatives Ciudadanos have not ruled out working with Rajoy. However, a coalition of the two would still require the votes of another party. With the other players ranged on the political left, that looks unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Socialist party PSOE is hamstrung in its efforts with forming a coalition with Podemos by that party's support for a referendum on Catalan independence. PSOE leader Sanchez has said he will not countenance such a move.

Spain's Felipe VI begins consultation on Monday, with the aim of avoiding another election. Such an outcome would not be unwelcome for Podemos if the latest polling is anything to go by.

Should there be a new election, polling predicts that PSOE would be the big losers.

A poll published by newspaper El Pais on Sunday suggested that the PP, Ciudadanos and Podemos would all garner a larger share of the vote than they did in the December 20 election.

The PP would once again capture the most votes if a fresh election were held. Podemos would come in second place with 22.5 percent support.

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