10th May 2021

Spanish Socialists suffer crushing defeat amid protests

  • "I want a country without corrupt politicians," read a placard in Puerta del Sol (Photo: Ametxa)

Spain's ruling Socialist party (PSOE) has suffered a crushing defeat in local and regional elections, as youth movements across the country continue their protests against the political establishment and high unemployment.

Voting on Sunday (22 May) saw candidates from the centre-right Popular Party (PP) sweep to power in a host of former Socialist bastions, presaging what many now expect to be a centre-right victory in general elections due within 10 months.

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Conceding defeat, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the economic crisis had taken its toll.

"It destroyed thousands of jobs. It is a crisis that had profound effects on citizens' morale. I know that many Spaniards suffer great hardship and fear for their futures," Zapatero said.

"Today, without doubt, they expressed their discontent."

Initial results suggest the PP are set to take control of the autonomous region of Castilla La Mancha for the first time in Spain's post-Franco democratic era. Another Socialist bastion looked set to fall in Extremadura, as the PP headed for victory in almost all the 13 regional governments up for grabs.

At the local level, the key towns of Barcelona and Seville fell to Catalan nationalists and the PP respectively, with the Socialists garnering roughly 10 percent less of the vote than their main centre-right opponents.

Sunday's elections were preceded by a week of youth 'sit-ins' in different cities across the country, with an estimated 30,000 occupied Madrid's Puerta del Sol central square ahead of the vote. Protests also took place in Brussels on Friday (see video below).

Spain's electoral commission recently opted to extend a ban on political activity a day before elections to the protesters as well, although the government eventually decided not to send in police when the decision was widely ignored, report national media.

Instead, protesters in Puerta del Sol on Sunday announced their intention to stay in the square for at least another week.

The 'May 15 Movement' - named after the first day of action - has grown steadily amid widespread dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the economic crisis and the feeling that Spanish politics is overly dominated a small cartel of political parties.

Inspired by protests in Iceland and the Arab Spring, organisers also cite the country's high unemployment rate - 20 percent on average, rising to 45 percent among the youth - as a key concern, urging voters not to turn out for Sunday's poll.

"From Tahrir to Madrid to the world, world revolution," read one of the placards in the Spanish capital's main square, referring to its counterpart in Cairo.

'Real Democracy Now', an umbrella group of various Spanish movements and a key organiser behind the protests, has used a range of social networking sites to spread its message. A list of some 40 demands range from controlling parliamentary absenteeism to reducing military spending.

A series of makeshift tents in Puerta del Sol include a kitchen to distribute donated food and water, a health centre, creche and library, while organisers have made efforts to prevent the protests from descending into an alcohol-fueled fiesta.

"I have no political direction and that is what I want to change," one protester who gave her name as Mamen told Reuters.

Spanish youth protest in Brussels

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS (20 May 2011) ''Real Democracy Now', the organisation behind the latest wave of Spanish protests used social networking to pass their message meaning that the May 15 Movement spread to many European cities. In this video, young Spaniards residing in Brussels gather in front of the Spanish embassy in Belgium to have their voices heard.

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