Spanish Elections 2.0: Who's Who

In December 2015 the Spanish general election ended without a clear winner. After four months of jostling, posturing and squabbling, none of the four main parties are any closer to forming a coalition government. Unless Pedro Sánchez's PSOE can miraculously convince fellow socialists Podemos to join them in an alliance with the centre-right Cuidadanos, the King will this week call for a whole new election in June. Want to know more? This is a guide to who the candidates are, what happened to them in the December election, and where they're at in the public mind.

Partido Popular (PP)

Leader: Mariano Rajoy.

Seats in last election: 123

Motto: Cuts, cuts and more cuts.

Current Reputation: The Partido wasn't so Popular when it introduced the dreaded Labour Reform Act of 2012, which allowed private companies to set whatever wages and working conditions they wished, and deny severance payments for unfairly dismissed workers. Working people went into uproar and activists camped out in plazas all over the country. Then there was the extraordinary Barcenas affair with all its allegations of laundered money and embezzlement. The fall-out from this is ongoing, with new corruption cases springing up in regional offices all over the country, in particular Valencia. Somehow PP still managed to win the highest number of votes, owing to a reduction in unemployment figures, an (ever so slight) economic upturn and the fact that the previous PSOE gobierno was equally as corrupt during their last term in office.

Symbolic moment of last election: When out on the campaign trail in his Galician homeland, Rajoy, seen as a bit of a lisping whimp by the Spanish electorate, got punched in the face side-on by a teenager, the tough-skinned premier didn't go down and stood his ground. (Later on though, it emerged the aggressor was said to be a distant relative of Rajoy's.)

Pact-related activity: Zero. PP's attitude so far has been 'let them all fight and we'll offer the only real stability'. No silly pacts, no Catalan nationalists, no Marxists, no tonterías.

Don't be surprised if: Mariano Rajoy phones Pedro Sánchez and offers him a coalition this week, just so that when he says no, Sánchez looks like an obstacle to progress.

Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE)

Leader: Pedro Sánchez

Seats in last election: 90

Motto: Don't mention the Zapatero years.

Current Reputation: PSOE's last term in power (2004-2011) coincided with the economic crisis. The extent of mispending, debt and corruption exposed during José Luis Zapatero's reign ensured that support for the party lowered to previously unchartered depths. Sporty, handsome Pedro Sánchez emerged from the rubble of Alfredo Rubalcaba's emphatic election defeat of 2011, and struck a vote-friendly line of wilfully elusive, but emphatically statesman-like gravitas... combined with childishly dirty attempts to undermine Rajoy in public.

Symbolic moment of last election: Perhaps the only really memorable moment of his election campaign was when Sánchez pointed a finger at Rajoy and accused the Spanish premier of not being 'a decent man' in a live, one-on-one TV debate. With Rajoy looking genuinely wounded and surprised, it engendered a hissy catfight that was roundly mocked in the media the next day.

Pact-related activity: Sánchez has been in dating-site mode, sending out winks and flirty messages to just about everyone. The only action he got out of it was an embrace and sultry promises from Albert Rivera and his Cuidadanos. Podemos, PSOE's closest natural rivals, weren't so forthcoming. And they weren't about to go and seek support from the Catalan soberanistas. Thus PSOE couldn't muster enough votes to get into Moncloa.

Don't be surprised if: Their desperation to form a gobierno with anybody bar PP backfires for PSOE, and the elctorate goes with PP for the certainty of outright majority over the possibility of another stalemate.


Leader: Pablo Iglesias

Seats in Last Election: 69

Motto: Play the populist game/Power to the People

Current Reputation: Podemos rose to prominence in the last election taking the least likely route. From university lecture halls and street activism, via streaming debates on the internet and then into the nation's living rooms, they are undoubtedly the most charismatic public speakers on the current scene, in tune with the nation's disaffected youth. Having won just 11 seats less than PSOE in the last election - miraculous, seeing as the party wasn't even officially founded until 2014 - they're the future, but probably not the now.

Symbolic moment of last election: When Iglesias came to take possession of his seat in congress for the first time, he greeted fellow congresista Xavier Domènech with what is probably Spanish parliament's first ever passionate kiss on the lips between two male politicians. The stunt had the intended effect, blazing through social media sites and announcing the presence of a new, non-conformist attitude in Spain's political firmament .

Pact-related activity: The hard-liners. 'We won't compromise our political integrity.' That meant a rotund 'no' to forming a menage-a-trois with PSOE and Ciudadanos.

Don't be surprised if: Podemos ally themselves with Izquierda Unida for extra votes to overhaul PSOE and become Spain's opposition.

Cuidadanos (C's)

Leader: Albert Rivera

Seats in Last Election: 40

Motto: Change, but no change

Current Rep: Younger, more glamorous versions of PP, but firmly in the casta. During the election campaign the Barcelona-born, 36-year old Rivera managed to get the attention of conservative voters disaffected with the rife corruption exposed in every quarter of the PP. But it's still not clear whether he has much to say, or whether it's just that he looks the part.

Symbolic moment of last election: Having grandly claimed at an event at a Madrid university that Emmanuel Kant was a huge influence on his career, Albert Rivera was asked to cite one of the Prussian philosopher's works. 'I haven't personally read him,' was his sheepish answer.

Pact-related activity: Cosying up to PSOE. Sniping at Rajoy, who C's refer to as Rajao (translatable as either 'coward' or 'cracked'), on social media sites.

Don't be surprised if: Sharing the foreground with Pedro Sánchez during all the very public pact negotiations doesn't boost C's credibility and as a knock-on effect, their number of seats in the next election. Might they even leapfrog PSOE or Podemos? Who knows...

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