Letter from Spain: The Times Are A-Changin'

05/26/2015 09:11 am ET | Updated May 26, 2016
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Allow me to call your attention to this woman. We have seen her dressed the heroine, interrupting the rallies of other parties, or resisting the police in some of the numerous protests that she has staged against home evictions. Her name is Ada Colau, and she has dedicated her life to social and political activism. This Sunday, the polls have turned her into the leader of the most voted for force in Barcelona. In short, if she is able to weave together the necessary agreements, she will be the first female mayor of the city.

She is the first "indignada" that clearly unseats the power of traditional parties in Spain. But she is not alone: in Madrid, another woman, a 71-year-old ex-judge could become mayor, ousting the People's Party that had been unbeatable in the capital for more than 20 years. Manuela Carmena came on the scene in Madrid representing a coalition of emerging parties born of the "Indignados" movement of May 15th, 2011, environmentalism, and classic leftism: very similar coalitions have triumphed in many medium and large Spanish cities.

All of Spain has suffered a spectacular upset in the last local and regional elections. The hegemony of the PP (the ruling party which Mariano Rajoy leads) is fracturing during four years of tough social spending cuts in which corruption scandals have not ceased to appear. The leader of the opposition, a socialist party, also suffers, but from the left has the options to negotiate with the new kids on the block.

The recent arrival -- the more leftist Podemos, and the more centrist Ciudadanos, represent the rage and the will for change in a country exhausted by the economic crisis. The recuperation is real (there are forecasts that predict a PIB growth of 2.9 percent in 2015). Still, the creation of employment is advancing so slowly, and with such precarious new job positions, that to the PP's slogan: "Us or chaos," society seems to clearly have responded: "Chaos! Chaos!" The ruling party has lacked a dose of realism that Luis de Guindos, the Minister of Economy, gave when he assured all that Spain had left behind the economic recession, but not the crisis.

It is true that in a country accustomed to bipartisanship, the negotiations that are now being started to form governments will not be easy. All of the parties, the old and the new, have the next general elections (which should be held before the year ends) on the horizon. And all of them are at risk. The new parties, if they join "the establishment," risk disappointing their own base, while the same parties as always find their stability threatened by the demands of the new parties.

Spain is entering into a new time and a new political culture with minority and coalition governments, far from the bipartisanship that for 40 years has favored a predictable alternation between conservatives and social democrats since Franco's death. For Rajoy, solitude is not just political, but also generational: all of the strong men and women of the party that were (like him) key figures in the times of José Maria Aznar, have been swept away by the urns. In just one night, four years of immense institutional power have turned to dust.

This piece was originally published on HuffPost Spain and was translated into English.