Something strange has happened. While Nigel Farage and UKIP were causing a political earthquake and Marine Le Pen was reviving the good old days for the Front National when her old man put the wind up Chirac, the political right in Spain eked out a narrow victory, one only in terms of numbers of Euro seats. Of the 54 seats, the Partido Popular (with sixteen) was the only recognisably right-wing party to gain any seats. The Coalición por Europa, with three, is a mish-mash of left and right, while the UPyD (Unión Progreso y Democracia), which won four seats, is of the centre. Of the remaining 31 seats, PSOE got 14, while no fewer than six parties of the left (in their differing varieties) swept up the other 17.
Of these six parties, the performance that was the most stunning was that of Podemos (We Can), a party which is barely four months old and which was born out of the "indignados" movement. Some three years after the 15-M (15 May) demonstration in Madrid unleashed nationwide support for a movement which had as its focus corruption, the party system, unemployment and the banks, that movement became a political force of its own on Sunday. It won five seats. It was remarkable.
Podemos has been nicknamed "Pablemos" after its ponytailed, university lecturer leader, the 27-year-old Pablo Iglesias. Pablemos. We can Pablo. Pablemos-speak has risen out of social media. The party is a success of Twitter and Facebook. It is a success that should send shivers down the backs of the political establishment.
Iglesias does not see the Euro success as the end. It is only the beginning. He wants an alternative government, one in which Podemos would play a part, but might such an ambition be realised? In order to answer this question, one has to ask whether the Euro vote is anything more than a protest vote that will wither when it is time for the national election and for the two-party establishment to reassert itself.
It is a question that will be asked in several other European countries, because the European elections have witnessed the rise of all manner of small parties, mostly all well to either the right or the left. This is either evidence of discontent with Europe or with political systems in individual countries or both. Or it is simply evidence of protest voting for something which may not appear to matter as much as a national election.
Nevertheless, the established parties have to take note. It has long been said of the internet that it has had the power to democratise information. It has also been said that it has the power to disrupt conventional politics through the exercise of popular democracy. This is now proven to be so, and Podemos is clear proof. Parties with an existence of only four months are not supposed to succeed in elections. They do now.
The PP and PSOE can spin the results for all their worth, but the elections are evidence of the widespread disillusionment with a two-party system castigated for its inherent corruption, lack of accountability and lack of transparency. For PSOE, both nationally and in the Balearics, the election results are nothing to be overjoyed with. It is a party which still gives the appearance of being in disarray or worse, i.e. a complete shambles. Yet, with 22% of the vote against 27.5% for the PP, were there to be a similar pattern in the regional elections next year, it would surely form a government, assuming other parties of the left, including Podemos, were minded to join a coalition. Podemos, with slightly over 10%, has risen from nowhere to be the third most voted-for party in the Balearics. I say again, remarkable.
But why has Spain witnessed the emergence of a small, popular left-wing party and not one of the right? There are small parties very much of the hard right, but they have achieved nothing electorally. An answer may lie with the establishment. For all that it is described as being "centre right" (for purposes mainly of media convention), the PP harbours some seriously right-wing elements. It might be said that the Balearics have revealed these, albeit to suggest that the truly hard right is a factor locally would be some way wide of the mark. Nonetheless, in a policy such as that regarding language, there is not much by way of clear blue water between the PP and the small far-right parties and movements.
Do we conclude that there is little space for a popular right-wing alternative because the established system gives the right sufficient voice? Perhaps we do conclude this. We might, indeed can also conclude, though, that the left is split wide open. PSOE were arguably the bigger losers on Sunday. Podemos? Yes, we can.