MADRID – A new generation of Spanish political leaders will go toe to toe in the April 28 snap elections, heading up a rejuvenated list of candidates, many of whom are taking their first plunge into the electoral process.
Polling suggests that these will be some of the most closely fought and unpredictable general elections in Spain’s modern democratic era, generally accepted to have begun in the years following the end of the late Francisco Franco’s military dictatorship (1939-75).
In an effort to make themselves more attractive to prospective voters, the political forces have refreshed their leadership and candidate lists to add more women, younger people and previously unaffiliated people from the world of journalism, business, economic, law, bullfighting, and the armed forces.
Some critics, however, worry that this regenerated political landscape could lead to inexperienced leadership.
The heads of the main political parties – all men – were born after the dictatorship or, at most, within its dying years, such as the current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who was born in 1972.
The others are: Pablo Casado (1981) of the conservative Popular Party; Pablo Iglesias (1979) of the left-wing (Podemos) (We Can); Albert Rivera (1979) of the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and Santiago Abascal (1976) of the far-right Vox, which looks set to enter the national parliament for the first time.
With an average age of 41, none of the party leaders took part in Spain’s transition into democracy. In fact, all of the leaders rose to the fore of Spanish politics this century.
They all have university degrees, they speak English and are active on social media. All, with the exception of Casado, were candidates for the office of prime minister in the 2016 elections, although their political trajectory is varied.
Sanchez took over from PSOE veterans like Felipe Gonzalez and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, while Casado took over from conservatives like Jose Maria Aznar and Mariano Rajoy, the last of his political generation to lead the PP.
Born in 1955, Rajoy governed between December 2011 and May 2018, when Sanchez successfully ousted him in a no-confidence motion.
The other leaders, Iglesias, Rivera and Abascal founded the so-called new parties.
Iglesias founded Podemos in 2008 during the fallout of the economic crisis, while Rivera’s Ciudadanos began in 2006 as an opposition force to growing separatism in Catalonia and Vox came about in 2013 when disgruntled, right-wing members of the PP sought an alternative to the mainstream.
The facelift in the PP stemmed from a slew of massive corruption scandals while for the PSOE it came from a perceived an inability to manage employment and the economy, which generated “enormous mistrust,” Maria Jose Canal, a professor of Political Communication at Madrid’s Complutense University, told EFE.
Podemos was a different case, the expert said. She said this type of new politics “rises like foam and then, like foam, goes down again.”
Political parties have made wider changes in their teams, too.
For example, PSOE’s parliamentary spokeswoman, Adriana Lastra, was born in 1979, while the secretary general of the PP, the party’s number two, Teodoro Garcia Egea, was born in 1985.
Youth leaders such as the PP’s New Generations frontman Diego Gago and PSOE’s Young Socialists leader Omar Anguita will run as candidates for the first time.
Up to 80 percent of each of the two major party’s candidate list has been swapped out, according to their own data, which some analysts have described as a purge.
But Gago, 31, told EFE he rejected this point of view and said it was a “natural” process.
Anguita, 28, said there were more and more young people engaging with politics.
“It’s perhaps much more believable when young people talk about problems and solutions for youth than an older person,” he said.
Polling suggests Spain is on track for a hung parliament, although PSOE is forecast to take the most votes.