La Coruña's City Hall | Christopher Finnigan
It’s raining when I arrive in La Coruña, but I can still make out the campaign posters draped over the bridge — huge, staring faces looking out onto a country in flux . Mariano Rajoy on one side, Pedro Sánchez on the other. Both are in pristine white shirts in front of an immaculate white background and both are most probably somewhere in Madrid preparing for their impending televised debate later this evening, the last before Sunday’s December 20th general election.
I’ve just completed a thirteen-hour train ride from Barcelona to the northwest of Spain. In a rattling carriage that plodded its way across the country’s northern corridor, you wouldn’t have known a national election was in its final stage. In the countryside of Navarra or even in the outskirts of Leon, there were no men in white, leaning to one side, trying to convince you to vote for them by crossing their arms and posing intensely. None of the passengers were talking about the news that Spain’s two-party system is about to be broken either. Instead the man who was next to me was asleep, using his large chin as a pillow.
I find my hotel, drop off my bag and go for a walk around a town that is engulfed in campaign posters for an election just one week away. Galicia has a population of 2.7 million and like many other regions suffers from high levels of unemployment. While the national level currently stands at around 21 percent, here it’s slightly lower at 17 percent. I pass the harbour, a main source of economic activity, whose boats are being gently knocked together by the Atlantic winds. I duck into a bar with a monster-sized octopus in a tank and sit by the window. After ordering, I look out to find another poster on the lamppost outside with Rajoy’ face staring right back at me.
Local polls predict the Popular Party (PP) will win 11 seats here, down from fifteen in 2011. However this seaside city is no longer the bastion of political conservatism it appears, instead it is instep with the dramatic social and political changes that are currently in motion across Spain. In May of his year, Marea Atlantica, led by university professor Xulio Ferreiro took control of the city council winning ten seats and 31 percent of the vote. Next week they will stand in a coalition with Podemos, under the name En Marea. The Podemos-affiliated party are set win two of the eight seats up for grabs in La Coruna. Galicia has 23 seats in play, six of which this left-wing coalition is predicted to win.
I find supporters of this coalition a few hours later on the other side of the city. The hall is full and some of the candidates for En Marera are on the stage. Purple balloons of Podemos hang above the blue banners of En Marea and there are teenagers on the floor sitting cross-legged in the aisles and a few even to the side of the stage. The guests mix Gallego with Spanish throughout the night as they lament what they see as slow and uneven economic recovery and the trend towards insecure and temporary jobs.
After an hour a few leave early and I follow them to find out why. Maybe they are Ciudadanos voters who have come to check out the competition. Jose, 62 laughs at me when I suggest the idea and then goes on to tell me why he’s excited about this election. “We are living with the hope that we had after Franco,” he says, “and we can take democratic power back in this election with the people here tonight.” His wife agrees. Margarita, another one leaving early is a 62-year-old nurse tells me how the optimism for change that En Marea is creating has caught on with many of her colleagues.
The event continues and the candidates talk about a wide variety of topics. All address the domestic violence in Spain. Depending on which statistics you cite, between 50 and 100 women have been murdered by men this year. A key sticking point between Podemos-affiliated groups like En Marea and Spain’s other relatively new party Ciudadanos on this issue is legal reform. Ciudadanos have committed to equalizing the sentence guidelines for cases of domestic abuse. Currently sentencing for non-physical abuse begins at six months for men and three months for women. Several express their discontent at this tonight, arguing a change in the law is not going to help lower the murder rate.
As the event ends I speak with some of the younger members of the audience and ask them why they are not drawn to this other relatively new party that is doing very well with young people. Joel, a 19-year-old student is suspicious of their “neo-liberal agenda.” Isabella, 18, tells me something similar. She’s from a family of Izquierda Unida voters but is supporting this left-wing coalition over other new parties; “it’s a new party but with the same ideas as the PP.”
In a restaurant after the event, the final debate, the ‘cara a cara’ between Sánchez and Rajoy is on in the background. A key event in the election campaign, the first and only debate Rajoy is participating in. Like the campaign posters the theme of white, as in some way representative of transparency, is once again present.
However seeing this debate after witnessing the energy of tonight, makes it look more like a business meeting between two CEOs. There is none of the excitement and enthusiasm for change present in La Coruña and across the country as the campaign trail comes to an end and Spain prepares for its most important elections in almost four decades.
Christopher Finnigan tweets at @