Spaniards are heading back to the polls on June 26, a mere six months after the general elections that shook up the country’s political landscape. Last December, the anti-austerity party Podemos (“We Can”) and the neoliberal Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), both new to Parliament, won 69 and 40 seats, respectively, ending three decades of two-party dominance and making a coalition government inevitable. Without a clear progressive or conservative majority, however, negotiations quickly reached a deadlock, and in early May the king was constitutionally obliged to call for new elections. (Spain, like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, still has a constitutional monarchy.)
The June elections—in effect a second round—may well break the stalemate. While the polls do not indicate major shifts in voting patterns, a new electoral alliance between Podemos, the United Left, and other parties, which was confirmed on May 9, is likely to leverage the electoral system to its advantage, increasing the parties’ combined seat count by 25 percent. This alliance, Unidos Podemos (“United We Can”), would potentially pave the way for a broad, progressive majority coalition of Podemos, the United Left, and the Socialist Party (PSOE). Like Portugal’s, this left-of-center governing coalition would be poised to resist austerity and change the balance of power in the European Union.
IU, which includes Spain’s Communist Party, has been remade under its charismatic young leader, Alberto Garzón. He has successfully weathered internal crises, including corruption scandals and the departure of major party figures. More important, he has led a process of democratic renewal of Spain’s old left, pushing for the alliance with Podemos despite the resistance of his party’s old guard and disagreements with Podemos over issues such as NATO (which IU wants to leave) and the monarchy (IU is staunchly republican). In what many see as a symbolically generous gesture, Garzón agreed to be fifth on the coalition’s list instead of third, a position reserved for Íñigo Errejón of Podemos. (Ensuring proportional representation, the list will alternate between men and women.) This kind of goodwill is rather less present in the PSOE, however. In fact, judging by the events of the past four months, it’s anything but certain that the PSOE won’t instead help the conservative Popular Party (PP) stay in power.
Almost eight years after the mortgage crisis that led to the Great Recession, Spain’s economic situation continues to be among Europe’s worst. Although the economy has registered a modest 3 percent growth, inequality has soared while jobs continue to be scarce and increasingly precarious. Official unemployment numbers clock in at 21 percent overall and at 45.5 percent among youth. One-day contracts have grown 25 percent over the past year. From January to March of this year, roughly 429,000 one-day contracts were signed in Spain, more than twice as many as during the same time in 2007, at the beginning of the Spanish crisis. And Spain’s precarious employment has hit women the hardest: 18.5 percent of women who work a daily eight-hour shift earn less than 1,000 euros per month, compared to 9 percent of men. UNICEF reports that a third of Spain’s children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. “Extreme insecurity and lack of opportunities have trapped an entire generation of children and young adults,” UNICEF wrote. Economic emigration has tripled since 2008, and hundreds of thousands of young Spaniards, many with advanced degrees, have moved to the UK, Germany, France, and Latin America.