Melchoir waves to the crowd
It is hard to escape politics in Spain these days, but the controversy sparked by Madrid’s much-loved Cabalgata de los Reyes parade came as a surprise all the same.
Every year, on the night before the January 6 feast of Epiphany, the three kings make a triumphant entry into the Spanish capital, at the end of a vast procession that snakes its way down the Castellana boulevard. By tradition, the Cabalgata parade offers up a peculiar blend of the religious (the kings), the commercial (company-sponsored floats with popular cartoon figures), the military (the Spanish cavalry), the agricultural (geese) and the circus (elephants and camels).
Tens of thousands line the route, hoping to catch a glimpse of the kings – and to pick up their share of the thousands of kilos of sweets that are thrown into the crowd. For children, it is the highlight of Spain’s festive calendar, made more exciting still by the knowledge that there is only one more night to go until they can unwrap their Christmas presents.
This year’s Cabalgata, however, was subtly different. Madrid elected a new mayor last year, ending more than two decades of rule by the conservative Popular party. The new chief is Manuela Carmena, a veteran left-wing judge and activist, who led an alliance of leftist groups to victory in May. Though not a member of Podemos, she is a close ally of Spain’s anti-austerity movement. Read more
It is not just the Greeks who are lamenting a humiliating defeat in Brussels.
The Spanish government, too, has suffered a stinging setback. The headlines on Tuesday morning told the story: “Spain left without influence in the EU,” declared El Mundo. The El País daily, meanwhile, bemoaned the “diplomatic incompetence” that produced this latest Spanish “failure”.
Despite furious lobbying from Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, and despite the support of Germany, Madrid failed to get what it so badly wanted: the appointment of Luis de Guindos as the next president of the eurogroup. “De Guindos loses and plunges Spain into political irrelevance,” remarked el diario, the Spanish news website. Read more
Another week, another sign of political upheaval in Spain.
Monday brought a fresh poll showing that Podemos, the upstart anti-establishment party, is now the most popular political movement in the country. The survey, published in the El Mundo daily, gave Podemos 28.3 per cent of the vote, two points ahead of the ruling Popular party and more than eight points ahead of the opposition Socialists. Not bad for a party founded just 10 months ago by a group of political scientists
It was not the first time that the new party has come first in an opinion poll. But the latest survey made clear that the Podemos surge is no statistical aberration. Fuelled by wide-spread disdain for Spain’s political class and a festering social crisis, the new party appears to be on course to shatter Spain’s established two-party system – and render any prediction as to who might govern the country after next year’s general election obsolete. Read more
Miguel Arias Cañete and Elena Valenciano shake hands (Getty)
On Thursday night, Spanish television broadcast the first and only live debate between Spain’s leading candidates for the European Parliament election. The debate itself provided few rhetorical fireworks and precious little insight, but the morning after was packed with zesty controversy.
Most commentators felt that Miguel Arias Cañete, who heads the list of Spain’s ruling Popular party, came off slightly worse in the head-to-head clash with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist opponent. Unusually for a TV debate between politicians, Mr Arias Cañete decided to read his entire opening and closing statements off a piece of paper. Shuffling his notes around for much of the night, he reverted back to pre-written text on several more occasions. It made for a slightly wooden, disjointed appearance that triggered a flood of mocking tweets and commentary.
Perhaps realising that his performance had made less of an impact than he would have hoped, Mr Arias Cañete gave a television interview on Friday morning that offered up a curious explanation for his lacklustre performance. The problem, apparently, was the fact that he was facing a woman. Read more
An elderly woman walks through a wintry Spanish city, sadly bemoaning her country’s fate. “All the studies show we always come last in the rankings,” she exclaims, shuffling past a placard highlighting Spain’s poor performance in international education tests.
She bumps into old friends, all of whom tell her of their plans to leave the country and “become foreigners”. At a nearby market, stalls advertise the benefits of becoming German, Scandinavian or British. She meets a tousle-haired man clutching his German certificate: “I want to know what it feels like when everyone owes you money – not the other way around.” Read more