The results of Sunday’s parliamentary election in Spain are the strongest challenge yet to the post-Franco political order that has been dominated by the country’s two major parties — the centre-right Popular Party and the Socialist Workers Party. In the post-Franco years, the motto of the Spanish political class was ensuring a democratic transition, checking the military’s overreaching influence, rebuilding the country’s damaged international reputation and creating a relatively prosperous society. This socio-political project held sway for nearly four decades, with the established parties championing it. But the European economic crisis, which particularly hit Spain hard, and the conservative response of the main political parties towards the crisis, along with a generational change in Spanish society, seems to have ruptured the status quo . The two main parties have failed to win a simple majority. The Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won 123 seats in the 350-member Parliament, while the Socialist Workers Party secured only 90 seats. Both saw an erosion of popular support, while emerging parties, the radical-left Podemos and the liberal Citizens party, made huge gains. They won 69 and 40 seats, respectively.
The performance of Podemos, which was formed only in January 2014, is particularly impressive. The party led by Pablo Iglesias has a strong anti-austerity policy and has called for a new politics of people’s participation. They could resonate with the young voters easily as the austerity policies adopted by the government are taking a toll on their lives while the economy is still struggling. Joblessness among the youth is dangerously high, at 47 per cent. But during the campaign Podemos faced a “Syriza problem”. Its rivals said if the radical-left party won, it would push Spain into a Greece-like crisis. Unlike in Greece, the Spanish Socialists are not completely discredited among their support base. Podemos had actually toned down its radical rhetoric during the campaign to present itself as a responsible Leftist force that can deal with the economic challenges of Spain. But they still could not crack the rural vote base of the Socialists. The Citizens party, on the other side, is also critical of the establishment, but it doesn’t have any alternative economic agenda to offer, which limits its scope of growth. So there’s no clear winner. The transition is likely to be chaotic. One possible outcome of the election would be the formation of a weak coalition government. The Left parties have said they would block the Popular Party from forming a government again. The Socialists and Podemos are reportedly in talks. But both groups have divergent views on key issues, beginning with the economic policy. Even if a coalition is put together, it’s unlikely to solve Spain’s main problems. Another scenario is a fresh election in a few months. In either case, the churn in Spanish politics will continue until a clear leader emerges out of the present chaos.