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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

A View From The Campaign Trail: La Coruña

Por: | 16 de diciembre de 2015

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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 @chrisjfinnigan

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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