News / Europe

Diez Challenging Spanish Politics

Rosa Diez, leader of the centrist Union for Democracy and Progress, or  UPyD, smiles while posing for a photograph in Parliament in Madrid, May 21, 2013.
Rosa Diez, leader of the centrist Union for Democracy and Progress, or UPyD, smiles while posing for a photograph in Parliament in Madrid, May 21, 2013.
Reuters
Spain's rising political star is a 61-year-old former Socialist whose message of changing the system from within is drawing voters in despair at economic ruin and official corruption in the euro zone's fourth biggest economy.
 
Lacking the raucous anti-establishment appeal of Italy's Beppe Grillo and Greek leftist hero Alexis Tsipras, Rosa Diez relies on sharp debate to deliver her reform message to a country pushed to the brink by the euro zone debt crisis.
 
Diez split from the Socialist party six years ago and formed the centrist Union for Democracy and Progress, or UPyD.
     
Polls show she is Spain's most highly regarded politician at a time when a quarter of workers are out of a job and public disenchantment with the political class is rising, as is the caseload of judges investigating allegations of official graft.
       
Projections by Metroscopia polling firm show that if elections were held now, Diez's party could take as many as 30 seats in the 350 seat parliament, up from five at present.
 
The former Communists the United Left could quadruple its presence to 48 seats, perhaps forcing one of Spain's two main political forces, the socialists or the center-right People's Party, to form a coalition government for the first time.
   
Although the bigger parties will expect to win back support during campaigning for the 2015 vote, the growing impact of smaller parties is bringing about a dramatic and permanent change in the political landscape.
      
“The two-party system has suffocated democracy and people know that. A huge majority of Spanish citizens want a radical change in the political system,” Diez said in an interview with Reuters.
     
She cultivates a maverick image - an asymmetrical haircut and each fingernail painted a different color - but her politics are far from revolutionary. She defines herself as a social-liberal who endorses free-market economics, progressive individual liberties and a social safety net.
      
SPANISH EXCEPTION
 
When Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s after Francisco Franco's dictatorship, the electoral system was set up to guarantee stability by limiting proportionality and favoring two major parties.
 
Over the past 36 years the People's Party - which currently has an absolute majority in parliament - and the Socialists carved up power and controlled everything from savings banks to the justice system. To pass laws they counted on votes from nationalist parties from the wealthy Basque and Catalan regions, which received extensive self-governing powers in return.
 
The challenge to that long-running status quo in Spain reflects political upheaval all over Europe, where populists and extremists have tapped into public rejection of austerity measures, immigration, recession and unemployment.
 
In Britain, a far-right campaign to leave the European Union has gained ground; comedian-turned-activist Grillo has become a major force in Italy; and in Greece radical leftists and ultra-nationalists are growing in influence.
 
The economic picture in Spain is among the bleakest after a construction boom turned to bust, draining the banks and pushing up corporate insolvencies.
 
Unemployment is around 27 percent. Madrid sought 42 billion euros in international assistance last year to put the financial system on an even keel.
      
But while the rise of smaller parties has meant destabilizing fragmentation and shaky coalitions in countries such as Italy and Greece, in Spain the recent shadow of fascism means there is little appetite for extremism.
 
Here, the increased weight of alternative voices could be a sign of maturing democracy, some observers say.
   
“It's going to be very difficult for the two big parties to recover legitimacy. Governing will be more difficult in the future but I'm skeptical of an Italian scenario. Spaniards are wary of extremism,” said Antonio Barroso, a London-based political analyst at Teneo Intelligence, an advisory firm.
 
Diez's father was imprisoned for his political beliefs under Franco and she said she was “nursed on politics.”
     
After Franco died and Spain finally held elections - in 1977 - Diez said “it was only logical” for her to run for office. She has been in politics ever since.  Still, she has managed to paint herself as an outsider and draw support from both the left and the right for her pro-European views and centrist line.
 
“I voted for her because she's very charismatic. She's daring and different and I thought she would break barriers and do different things. I was totally disappointed with the two main parties,” said Jose Miguel Delgado, 47, an industrial technician.
 
RECKLESS BANKS
 
Diez has tapped into public outrage over the costly bailout for banks that loaned recklessly during the real-estate boom.
      
“She has a great nose for social change and is able to convert that into party ideology,” said a political rival who has worked with her in parliament for many years.
 
Diez's party has brought a lawsuit against former board members of Bankia, a major Spanish bank that almost collapsed last year and received the biggest bailout in the country's history.
 
The rescue came just as the government was cutting spending on hospitals and schools and rising numbers of Spaniards were out of work, defaulting on their mortgages and losing their homes.
       
The People's Party (PP) has seen its support dwindle to some 29 percent from 45 percent in the last elections as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy takes unpopular economic measures. His credibility was also damaged by allegations that high-level executives in his party channeled cash donations from business leaders to party leaders. A judge is investigating the charges.
 
PEOPLE'S HERO
 
Spaniards are turning not only to alternative political leaders like Diez and Cayo Lara - the 61-year-old head of the radical United Left, who has harvested votes from disillusioned Socialists.
 
They are also increasingly involved with social movements.
 
A new hero too many is Ada Colau, 39, leader of an activist group called the Mortgage Victims Platform that helps jobless mortgage defaulters fight the banks. Last year 39,000 families left their homes because of mortgage problems. Of those almost 3,000 were forcibly evicted.
       
Barcelona-based Colau, frequently seen on television at protests outside banks, said a sign of the impact her group has had is that a director at one of Spain's biggest banks consulted with the Platform on an affordable housing proposal.
      
The Platform has an approval rating of 71 percent, according to a recent opinion poll, while politicians in general are the very lowest rated institution in all of Spain, with a disapproval rating of 93 percent.
       
The influence of the Platform has alarmed the PP government.
 
PP Secretary General Maria Dolores de Cospedal accused the Platform of demagoguery and said they should legitimize themselves by forming a political party, an idea Colau rejects.
      
“People stop me on the street and ask me to run for office,” Colau told Reuters. “But if I did, the only thing I'd be able to do every now and again would be to have a tantrum in Parliament. I'd have much less influence than I have now.”
       
LIMITED ROLE
 
Diez, meanwhile, enjoys a high profile due to her weekly show-downs with the prime minister in televised parliamentary debates. Spaniards gave Diez a grade of 3.96 in a survey this month by Metroscopia. Premier Rajoy got a grade of 2.44, while Socialist leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba got a 3.00, and no politician beat Diez.
      
While she's well-regarded now, she may find it hard to maintain a simultaneous role as rebel and political operator.
       
Critics say Diez's rise will be limited by her focus on returning powers to the central government that have been ceded to regional governments in Catalonia and Basque Country, and by a lack of detail in her economic policy.
 
Diez rejects the criticism, pointing to her initiatives to shut down public companies and unnecessary institutions, simplify employment contracts to make hiring and firing cheaper for corporations, and standardize business rules across Spain.
       
She does acknowledge it will be difficult for her party to break into the big time unless Spain reforms election laws that make it hard for minority parties to get representation anywhere except the largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona.
      
Experts are skeptical there is any political will to overhaul the electoral system and destroy the PP and Socialist power bases in local governments around the country.
 
“If you have a society in which most people are benefiting from protectionism or favors from the political system, it's very difficult to see how that same system is going to remove those,” said Dr. Jonathan Hopkin, a politics expert at the London School of Economics.
       
One arena where the UPyD and the United Left can both shine is in European Parliamentary elections next year, where they are expected to gain significant numbers of seats because that vote is run on a strictly proportional basis.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid