Podemos and Pablo Iglesias win big in Spanish elections.

Groundbreaking Elections End Four Decades of Two-Party Rule in Spain

Groundbreaking Elections End Four Decades of Two-Party Rule in Spain

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Dec. 21 2015 4:18 PM

Groundbreaking Elections End Four Decades of Two-Party Rule in Spain

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Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias acknowledges his supporters after learning the final general election results on December 20, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

The Spanish elections on Sunday were the most important since the end of the Franco era and the beginning of Spain’s democratic age. They ended 38 years of two party rule between the conservative Popular Party, or PP, and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, PSOE, and introduced two key new players, the far-left party Podemos, and the right-of-center Ciudadanos, remaking Spain’s political landscape.

Though the PP continues to be in power, it lost the most in these elections, since it no longer has an absolute majority and will need to form a coalition and come to an agreement on a number of issues with the other parties in order to rule, an unprecedented situation in Spanish politics since the beginning of the democratic age. Under Mariano Rajoy, president since 2011, the PP had improved Spain’s economy, but had been losing support, particularly with younger voters who saw both ruling parties as behemoths from a bygone era, and who have been the most affected by Spain’s economic woes: the unemployment rate for people under 25 is more than 53 percent. Just last week, a young voter expressed his discontent by punching Rajoy in the face. The PP lost about half of its seats to the more centrist, but business-friendly, Ciudadanos.

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PSOE also had a terrible night, finishing in second place with its biggest loss in more than 30 years. Many of those votes went to Podemos, the real winner in this election.

The far-left socialist party, Podemos is a radical political movement built from scratch, a product of the anti-austerity, anti-capitalist indignados protests from 2011, but founded less than a year ago in January 2014. It’s an Occupy Wall Street-style movement of vocal, grassroots, anti-austerity ideology, a progressive environmental agenda, and an eloquent, charismatic, young and pony-tailed Spanish version of Bernie Sanders, Pablo Iglesias. Iglesias, a 37-year-old political science professor, has been an active member of anti-globalization movements, has written on civil disobedience, and quotes Marx comfortably. Podemos has strong ties with Greece’s anti-austerity party Syriza, which is no coincidence since Spain’s unemployment, at 21 percent, is the second highest in Europe after Greece.

The key issue for Spain now is governability. Rajoy, Iglesias, and their parties have two months to form a new government and choose a president, or there will be new elections. An absolute majority is out of the question since it would require the PP to form a grand coalition with PSOE, but PSOE already announced they would “vote No to Rajoy’s presidency and No to the PP.” Podemos also expressed they would not allow a government that included the PP.

This opens the possibility of a leftist coalition, but that won’t be easy. PSOE and Podemos don’t see eye to eye on many key issues, particularly on the issue of making Spain a plurinational state with different "self-determined" territories, which Podemos supports and PSOE vehemently opposes, calling Spanish national unity “unquestionable.”

Whatever coalitions form, ending a four-decade two party ruling system and opening the field for two new parties will force Spain to come to terms with many long-enduring questions and unresolved issues, or risk government paralysis and new elections come March, ​an outcome Iglesias has said he’d be "delighted" about.

Juliana Jiménez is a former Slate photo editor and now a contributor writing on Latin American politics and culture for the Slatest. She translates for Democracy Now! and writes in English and Spanish for publications in Latin America.