Spain's Andalusia vote sets stage for national upheaval

Andalusian regional Podemos (We Can) party leader and candidate Teresa Rodriguez talks during news conference after the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville, southern Spain, March 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

By Inmaculada Sanz SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) - Leftist newcomer Podemos made spectacular inroads in elections in the Spanish region of Andalusia on Sunday, with the vote splitting over the political spectrum in a foretaste of the upheaval likely in national elections before the year-end. The vote showed the anti-austerity sentiment that brought Syriza to power in Greece has now taken root in Spain, where one in four workers is unemployed, and also ended the two-party system built when the Franco dictatorship ended in the 1970s. While Spain is emerging from the euro-zone debt crisis as one of Europe's fastest growing economies, a campaign by the ruling People's Party (PP), and to a lesser extent the Socialists, to show that newly minted political alternatives are dangerous for the recovery did little to limit their magnetism. "We are the protagonists of the change, of the creation of new alternatives. ... The political map in Andalusia and Spain has changed," said Teresa Rodriguez, who led the Podemos campaign in Andalusia. Although the two dominant parties, the Socialists and the PP, came first and second in the vote, they lost support from the last election in 2012. The Socialist party won 47 seats out of 109 in the regional parliament, while the PP suffered heavy losses to take second place with 33 seats. Podemos, only a year old, took 15 seats while Spain's other political newcomer, Ciudadanos, on the centre-right of the spectrum, grabbed nine seats. Former communists Izquierda Unida won five seats. Results show the Socialists will need the support of other parties to govern in Andalusia, a tricky task given that rivals may worry that deals reached there could damage them in elections elsewhere in Spain later this year. "HERE TO STAY" In Sunday's election in Spain's most populous and largely agricultural region, about 6.5 million Andalusians, or one fifth of the national electorate, were given the chance to vote for Podemos and Ciudadanos for the first time. The PP and the Socialists who have dominated power nationally for decades have seen support plummet in national opinion polls following a deep economic and political crisis. As the economy recovers, growth has done little to whittle down unemployment and inequality has widened. "On a national level, what we can extrapolate from this is that Podemos and Ciudadanos are here to stay," said Jose Pablo Ferrandiz, sociologist at polling firm Metroscopia. Podemos ("We Can"), led by the charismatic, pony-tailed Pablo Iglesias, unexpectedly won five seats in last May's European elections and has mainly gathered votes on the left of the spectrum. Ciudadanos (Citizens) has taken a more market-friendly stance and is seen by many analysts as a potential king-maker in the national parliament later this year. "We have to learn to manage change and the difference between Ciudadanos and other parties is that we don't consider ourselves enemies of (any party)," said Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. "We believe Spain's enemies are unemployment, corruption and the confidence crisis." The two upstarts have capitalised on discontent with the older parties, which are seen as holding back change to protect vested interests. The newcomers' campaigns have focused on corruption within the Socialist party and the PP, and have also attacked the ineffectiveness of the established parties in dealing with rising poverty and inequality. (Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Julien Toyer and Leslie Adler)