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Once upon a time: Spain’s second political transition

LATEST SPANISH elections results suggest for the first time an upcoming real change in the Spanish political spectrum. The leftist activist sector of society settles in Madrid and Barcelona City Halls instigating for many an encouraging policy shift, while for others remaining uncertain.

Manuela Carmena is the leader of 'Ahora Madrid'.

She went to a religious school, like me, although for her there was no religion at home. It is during adolescence when she discovered philosophy, as happened to me, by which she was entirely fascinated. She enjoyed writing and had the feeling that her mission in life was to change the world, exactly what I thought, only that her father wouldn’t let her study journalism and mine did.

Manuela Carmena, “a great lawyer”, to quote Esperanza Aguirre (opposition leader running for the election of the mayor of Madrid), began studying law at Universidad Complutense of Madrid in the early 1960s. Tracking back in time, the first years at college were fascinating for Carmena when she discovered a whole world of ideas and literature that eager many young anti-franquitas like her channelled to create a free and egalitarian society.

More than 50 years later, Carmena’s eyes still sizzle with joy when speaking of change, improvement or common sense. Spain is going through a second social and political regeneration. Its society is maturing and overcoming those mistakes from the past that have (literally) taken their toll. The young lawyer, as she was when many other Spaniards began a democratic process in this country, is back full of experience, wisdom and looking forward to work.

Applying common sense

Carmena, who refused to perform rallies because – according to her – there are other ways of doing politics, recounted in a TV interview a story eavesdropped while in the Madrid underground. During a journey, one young girl was telling her friend that she urgently needed the toilet. Her friend, without thinking twice, said to her not to be worried because she had done it before in one of the subway elevators.

Carmena’s reflection was as follows. Madrid’s government has had problems in managing garbage collection, what has soiled – in the broadest sense – the image of this city. The attitude of its citizens is, to say the least, alarming and the key to the dilemma automatically lies on obsolete educational structures (a pending subject in Spain). The decision taken by previous governments was to impose sanctions on those who urinate in public places. From Carmena’s point of view, making laws without analysing the root of the problem is definitely not the solution. She herself tried to find public toilets and simply discovered that there aren’t any.

This is an example of the in-depth analysis and pragmatism that Carmena aims to put into practice when managing Madrid’s office, since a deal with the Socialist Party is soon going to place her as mayor of the city.

Although many have linked Carmena to Podemos – the leftist party that has, together with Ciudadanos, broken the two-party system in Spain’s most recent local and regional elections – she refuses to have any political connections. Carmena believes there are alternatives for change, also in politics. Therefore, she stood in the elections for Madrid’s mayor leading a platform of citizens called Ahora Madrid. Some members of this platform are also members of Podemos although there are other citizens with different approaches too. However, Pablo IglesiasPodemos’ leader – has exacerbated the rumours by vigorously supporting her candidacy.



Democracy: the power of people

This woman of progressive ideas, always ahead of her time, whose ability to reason is as overwhelming, has always been closely linked to non-profit organizations and had special concern for prisoners.

Manuela Carmena advocates a more participatory and direct democracy, adapted to today’s interpersonal communication systems. Likewise, citizens’ political participation and powers delegated to representatives are, according to Carmena, in question since this is not longer a guarantee of democracy. To this regard, Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General, declared within the context of the basis for sustainable development of governance in the XXI century:


“Our times demand a new definition of leadership – global leadership. They demand a new constellation of international cooperation – governments, civil society and the private sector, working together for a collective global good.”

Critical of the current democratic system and especially of the judiciary, Carmena aims to run the most acclaimed petitions received from Madrid’s citizens, via the city’s online platform, within the first 100 days in office. Thus, Ahora Madrid has already begun to practice a direct participatory democracy, for which many citizens have been begging since the start of the indignado’s movement.

Firstly, she aims to paralyse first-home evictions and guarantee the right to housing. Years ago, she said, this was already done in Madrid when she was chief justice of the capital. Political power, as she considers it, must mediate before a court order appears within a mortgage process, in order to protect those most disadvantaged of our societies.

Since the outbreak of the financial crisis, 500,000 evictions have taken place in Spain according to the General Council of the Judiciary released by the Mortgage-Affected Citizens Platform (PAH, initials in Spanish). The psychological damage on those who lose their houses is such, as Carmena explained, that the state with all the resources at its disposal must intervene. Certainly, the new mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, will agree. Activist and cofounder of PAH, Colau (as with Carmena) has broken down the traditional political schemes becoming the first female mayor of Barcelona without political background.

As Carmena says, women are intended to play a key role within mankind’s future. So does the columnist Gaby Hinsliff, whose op-ed in The Guardian highlighted the increasing number of women over 55 in senior positions in relation to the release of the Forbes list of the world’s most influential women last May.

From the outside

The euphoria coming from the youngest and progressive groups of Spain’s society about the idea of Carmena becoming the mayor of Madrid has invaded the social networks in and out of Spain.



However, the international media have varied opinions, as do private interests. Although The Guardian suggests that British politicians should learn to speak as the Spanish left does, other adjectives have also defined the image of Carmena in the press. Some of them are: ‘granny’ – underlining her age – ‘communist’, ‘radical’ as well as confusing linkages with Podemos and other organisations.

Business media identify these political changes with “confusion, fragmentation and unpredictability, the Financial Times stated after the elections. Markets wait to see how Spain, one of the fastest growing economies in Europe this year, evolves. At the moment, the stock market has fallen nearly two points – as of the day after the elections – the investment risk has increased and large real estate investments have been paralysed in the country.

While the private sector trembles at any hint of populism, businessman and president of OHL (one of four biggest construction groups in Spain), Juan Miguel Villar Mir, declared that Carmena “may be a great mayor of Madrid”, El showcases.


Words by Ana Escaso

Photo credit: Movimiento de Liberación Gráfica Madrid. 

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