It’s been exactly a year ago since Spain held what would turn out to be the first of two general elections in ten months. The first vote unleashed chaos: new parties Podemos (‘We Can’, on the radical left) and Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’, on the centre-right) split 35 per cent of the vote between them. This ended the joint hegemony of Spain’s two oldest parties, meaning it was time to say goodbye to a status quo established when Franco’s death inaugurated democracy in 1975 – a world in which the Conservatives and the Socialists simply swapped power back and forth. Everything had changed. Or had it?
After almost a year of antagonistic negotiations, the country’s new government was finally installed at the end of October: it’s a minority Conservative-led operation dependent on parliamentary votes for passing legislation. And it’s led, once again, by the widely-loathed veteran Mariano Rajoy. As demonstrated by the compromised nature of this administration, some things are unimaginably different in Spain from one year ago. Other things, though, have remained exactly as they were.
Spain’s new political forces have had mixed fortunes since last December. In making a pact with the PP in October, Ciudadanos has proved itself the more pragmatic – and therefore successful – party. While Podemos has singularly failed to capitalise on the populist anger that brought it to prominence last December. In fact, its leader Pablo Iglesias wants to disassociate the party from populism, apparently denying claims that he was happy with Donald Trump’s victory in the States last month. There are, of course, huge ideological differences between these two politicians, but both claim to represent the disaffected. And both claim to oppose a political establishment they portray as corrupt and self-interested. Podemos’ failure to move forward, though, is because of a simple reason: as a party, it is defined by what it stands against, rather than what it advocates.