Will Spanish social movements reshape country’s political landscape?

Is Spain experiencing the end of two-party system?


1. How much can movements such as Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca and activists like Ada Colau influence the real political decisions in the time of the crisis? Are their strength and popularity lying only on the streets?

2. The Spanish politicians, especially ruling politicians, are pretty unpopular right now. Among the most popular is Rosa Díez of UPyD. Would you say she will be able to use it somehow, even to challenge in the long term the political superiority of PSOE and PP? Or perhaps you see other trends in Spanish politics?


Joan Botella, Professor of Political Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

1. The direct impact of social movements and new leaders, emerging in Spain, is visible in social terms, but very limited in the political / parliamentary arenas. One of the great challenges in Spanish politics is whether the “15/M” movements will become a political actor – which they have refused this far-, will create new political forces or will be channeled / abducted by any currently existing political force.

Besides Ada Colau, you must keep an eye on Alberto Garzón, MP by Málaga, local leader of 15/M and elected in the IU list; respected professional economist, young and brilliant. And also on Teresa Forcades, a Catalan biologist and nun (remember, the Church never goes wrong…!)

2. Spain is experiencing the end of two-party system the way we have known it – i.e., not in the British way but as two bands of competitive guys trying to make the most out of public institutions. This style of action has been destructive for public trust in Spain. Rosa Diez’s UPyD is aspiring to fill this hole, but I think she is too vague in Left/Right terms, and Spanish public opinion still leans more towards left than to right, Therefore, I also see room for IU’s growth (possibly beyond UPyD) and maybe some new more or less Green group.

Nothing is sure; but I think that European elections next year will be the moment for some of these questions being answered.

Carsten Humlebæk,  Assistant ProfessorDepartment of International Culture and Communication Studies, Copenhagen Business School

1. They have an influence but it mainly works indirectly. The government is keen not to give in on any particular item, and so far has not negotiated the law openly. The different protest movements, from “15-m” to “afectados por la hiipoteca” so far does not have a direct political representation, but I believe they are considering forming a protest-party, a bit like Grillos movement in Italy.

It is more likely that the EU, which is demanding more action of the Spanish government in regards to evictions etc. – will have a more direct influence on what the government does.

2. The political landscape is definitely changing in Spain right now as a consequence of the unpopularity of the two traditional governing parties. UPyD and IU are the beneficiaries in the polls although they are heavily penalised by the current electoral law. It is difficult to know if this trend will last to the next elections, but my guess is that it will, and then of course all kinds of new scenarios are possible: if the ‘big’ parties are not big enough to make a majority (in the left-wing case: PSOE and IU together) then UPyD will become decisive to form a government. A situation we know very well in Denmark where small centre-parties often have decided the faith of government and have received more power than their relative size. If this trend lasts it is also likely that the electoral law be changed in favour of ‘smaller’ parties like UPyD or a possible protest-party grown from the 15-m-movement.

Alejandro QuirogaReader in Spanish History, School of Historical Studies, Newcastle University

1. 1. The new legislation on mortgages has shown that the government is not willing to listen to popular demands. Its links with the financial elites are too strong and the main banks of the country lobbied the government to keep things the way they were. However the PAH gathered 1.5 million signatures and has over 80% of approval rates in opinion polls. This demonstrates an increasing gap between political/baking elites and most of the Spanish people. Having said that, all political parties, with the exception of the ruling conservative party, supported the demands of the PAH.

2. Rosa Díez is a peculiar character. She is been around for over 30 years. She was a top politician of the PSOE until 2003. Herself a Basque, she has based her party’s ideology on an anti- regional nationalist discourse. ETA’s permanent ceasefire was not good news for her (politically, I mean), but the centrifugal tensions in Catalonia and the economic crisis, including the regional governments’ problems to reduce their deficits, are working wonders for UPyD, as many Spaniards now begin to be disaffected with the semi-federal structure of the state. Díez is somehow the choice for change for those who do not want a major change. Perhaps more important than UPyD, is the rise of Izquierda Unida, (IU), a coalition of former communists, environmentalists and leftist. Surveys are giving them the biggest increase at the polls. This is mainly due to a transfer of votes from the PSOE. However, if they are able to change the old leading guard (too close to the Spanish communist party) and elect young leaders, they could mobilise an important part of the left’s electorate that traditionally does not vote in Spain. It is probably too soon to call, but the European elections will be a good thermometer.

Francisco Romero Salvado, Reader in Modern Spanish History, University of Bristol

About the Hipoteca Plataforma (Ada Colau et al.). They have achieved an important current of sympathy in sectors of civil society. They have managed to stop a good number of `deshaucios’ (people being thrown out of their houses because they couldn’t pay their mortgages). At a level of barrio (quarter) specially in poor areas, they have had an important effect. They have even managed to force the introduction of more compassionate legislation in parliament.

Still, I’m not sure the impact they could have at the level of political society where PP and PSOE (or CIU and others in certain regions) have entrenched networks of support (a bit like clientelism).

Once we thought the 15 M (the so-called enraged or indignados) could sweep away current politics, given the economic climate, and the PP was voted in with an overall majority. So I’m quite skeptic.

Richard Gunther, Professor of Political Science, The Ohio State University

1. Indeed, it is likely that the impact of social movement leaders will be restricted to those individuals who are most alienated from the current policies and current institutions and those are indeed, as your question poses, those who are in the streets. Unfortunately, the government appears to be paying no attention to the popular protests, and is continuing with its austerity programs, in my view much to the detriment of the interest of Spanish citizens.

2. With regard to your second question, you have to bear in mind the Spain has a powerfully majoritarian electoral system that works much to the detriment of minority parties. Thus, it would be very difficult for a third ranked or fourth-ranked party to break through and gain anything approaching a majority in the Spanish parliament. It is likely that the two principal parties will continue their dominance of Spanish politics, despite the fact that both of them are doing declining substantially in popular opinion.

Parties like Rosa Díez’s UPyD and others in the margins of the establishment such as Izquierda Unida, or at regional CUP in Catalonia and others have definitely benefited from the widespread discontent with the ruling parties. Still, the most voted parties clearly profit from the electoral D’Honte systems. Polls for Madrid indicate that the PP is going to lose its majority (a bulwark for many years), UPyD get a significant number of seats for first time and IU perhaps as nearly as many as the PSOE.

We have to take these results, one by one, and see if some significant changes at the level of municipal or autonomic elections could be reproduced at a state level.


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