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ELECTION

ANALYSIS: Where did it all go wrong for Spain’s radical left party Podemos?

Far-left party Podemos, which just four years ago took over major city halls across Spain, suffered a humiliating defeat in Sunday's local, regional and European elections, a victim of internal disputes.

ANALYSIS: Where did it all go wrong for Spain's radical left party Podemos?
Pablo Iglesias has faced calls to resign after the hammering on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The party lost almost all of the mayorships it won in 2015 along with other far-left groups, and captured just 10 percent of the vote in the European elections, compared with 14.3 percent during an April 28th general election.    

At the same time the triple polls strengthened acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists, which placed first in the European elections and won the most votes in 10 of the 12 regions that voted on Sunday.

The results undermined Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias's wish to form a coalition government with the Socialists, which won last month's general election while failing to reach a majority in parliament.

READ MORE: 

“He is too weakened to demand Pedro Sanchez give him ministries,” Carmen Lumbierres, a political science professor at Spain's Open University UNED, told AFP.

Speaking Monday, Iglesias said “it is obvious that these results are not good”, though he still hoped to join a coalition.   

“We most be conscious of what we weigh and try to form a government,” he said.

Podemos has just 42 seats in Spain's 350-seat parliament, down from 71 before the April vote.

In the last municipal elections, Podemos – or parties under its umbrella – swept to power in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza, La Coruña and Cádiz.

But this time round the only mayorship left it the hands of a radical left party linked with Podemos is in Cadiz, José María González,  affectionately dubbed Kichi, will have a second term as mayor.

In the regional vote, Podemos made huge losses, dropping a total of 70 seats across all the regions that voted.

In the regional parliament of Madrid, Podemos lost a whopping 20 seats, winning just seven seats this time round compared to the 27 in 2015 – the blame for the losses can be firmly placed at the door of Iglesias's former deputy turned rival, Íñigo Errejón who stood as a candidate with the Mas Madrid party. 

European trend

Podemos's collapse mirrors a European trend of declining support for far-left parties.

The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), which goups leftist parties in the European parliment, won just 39 seats in this year's European elections, down from 52 previously.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras plans to call for early polls after his far-left Syriza party — a Podemos ally — was trounced in European and local elections on Sunday. 

In Madrid, incumbent mayor Manuela Carmena who was elected in 2015 on a citizen platform backed by Podemos, won the most votes on Sunday but still lacks a majority.

She will most likely be replaced by the conservative PP candidate, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida if he is backed by the centre-right Ciudadanos and far-right party Vox parties.

In Barcelona, incumbent Mayor Ada Colau, a former housing activist backed by Podemos, lost to a Catalan separatist Ernest Maragall.   

Podemos-backed mayors also lost in Zaragoza, La Coruna and Santiago de Compostela.

Many were victims of divisions over strategy that have plagued the party for the past two years.   

In Madrid and Zaragoza, Podemos members presented competing lists.   

“Podemos was a victim of an overdose of Game of Thrones,” wrote Enric Juliana, deputy director of Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia, in an analysis of the party's results.

Many Podemos voters have become disenchanted with the party because it has not remained faithful to the new style of participatory politics that it initially promised to implement, said Lumbierres.

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POLITICS

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Spain's leftwing government said Monday it was looking to modify a landmark law to fight sexual violence to close a loophole that has let some convicted offenders reduce their sentences.

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Since the law came into force in October, around 20 offenders have reportedly been released and 300 others have seen their sentences reduced.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has announced plans to reform the law.

“In the coming days, we will present a draft bill, a meticulous text that will provide a response and a solution to these undesired effects which we obviously don’t want to see repeated in the future,” said Education Minister Pilar Alegria, who is also party spokeswoman.

“Logically, the best way to specifically address these undesired effects would be to increase the penalties for sexual offenders,” she told reporters.

READ ALSO – ‘Only yes means yes’: Spain tightens sexual consent law

The controversy erupted barely six weeks after the entry into force of the “Only yes means yes” law, which reformed the criminal code in a bid to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The overall aim of the law was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a women’s free and clearly expressed consent.

To this end, the charge of sexual abuse was dropped and everything was grouped under sexual assault. The range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

The law effectively reduces the minimum and the maximum punishment in certain specific cases and hundreds have applied to have their sentences revised.

‘Consent must remain at the centre’

Over the weekend, reports that the government was mulling changes to the law prompted tensions between the ruling Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos, which has championed the legislation.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) had quickly moved to offer parliamentary support if the Socialists wanted to push through the changes without Podemos.

But Podemos reacted angrily. Equality Minister Irene Montero warned that such a move would mean the law reverting to its original format and she vowed to do “whatever necessary” to ensure consent was kept at the centre.

Her stance was hammered home by party leader Ione Belarra on Monday morning. “Consent has to remain at the heart of the criminal code. We can’t go back to the evidentiary ordeal of proving we resisted enough or that we hadn’t been drinking,” tweeted Belarra, the social rights minister.

Socialist ministers insisted the planned changes would merely address the loopholes and would not touch the issue of consent.

“The correction and modification of the law is designed to avoid any undesired outcomes in the future and the issue of consent will remain at the centre of the law against sexual assault so that women avoid enduring the ordeal of proof in court,” cabinet minister Felix Bolanos, a close Sánchez aide, told reporters.

Until now, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation. Without that, the offence was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.

With “sexual abuse” dropped from the reformed criminal code and a much wider range of offences grouped under “sexual assault”, a broader range of penalties was required to ensure proportionality.

At the weekend, Montero said it was only a “minority” of judges who had applied the law incorrectly.

She said there were similar teething problems with Spain’s landmark 2004 domestic violence legislation, the first in Europe, which faced “almost 200 questions” about its legality in the first years after it was passed.

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