Friday, May 30, 2014

The protest vote in Spain

Those who thought that the Spanish indignados movement  had fizzled out were proved wrong on Sunday evening when a fledgling party born from its ashes proved otherwise. Podemos won five seats at the European parliament with 1.2 million votes.

Podemos had only been in existence for 100 days, led by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year-old political science professor with a ponytail. Still it captured the votes of many.

Iglesias is a former Communist Youth party member with links to Cuba and Venezuela. His politics are therefore very much left wing. Amongst his promises he says that he will do away with tax havens, establish a guaranteed minimum wage and lower the retirement age to 60. He also says that his MEPs will only take home €1,930 per month. The rest of their €8,000 per month salary will either go into party funds or to a chosen cause.

The result has shaken the two main parties to such an extent that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, leader of the PSOE, says he will resign. At the last European election, the PP and PSOE polled 81% of the votes. This time they did not manage 50% of the vote.

Whether the protest vote at the European election will translate into something substantive at the next General election in 2015, remains to be seen. Like the UKIP vote in Britain, the vote for Podemos in Spain may just turn out to be a protest rather than a sustained change in the electorate. Very few care about what happens in Brussels but they do care about their own country.

When it comes to the crunch, the vast majority of voters in most countries seem to favour moderate politics rather than those of the far right or left. Those of us above a certain age have all heard the wild promises of parties in the past and have learnt to take them with a pinch of salt. Podemos, like UKIP, might have captured the imagination of the young but they will need to work harder to convince the majority that they can deliver on their promises.

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