These are the people now deciding Spain’s future

Pablo Iglesias of Podemos (We Can) today.
Pablo Iglesias of Podemos (We Can) today.
Image: Reuters/Sergio Perez
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Life in Spain hasn’t been easy for the young, with 50% unemployment rates offering bleak prospects as well as a depressing present.

Now, Spanish youth have hit back at the leaders some blame for years of austerity and unemployment, with a decisive change to the nature of Spanish politics. It remains to be seen, however, exactly what that future will look like—and whether the parties supported by the young will deliver on their promises.

Two “upstart” parties have emerged since the last Spanish election in 2011: left-leaning Podemos, and Ciudadanos, which has presented itself as a centrist alternative to Podemos. Both saw a groundswell in voter support from younger people, while the ruling Popular Party (PP) has its base in a much older demographic:

The two newly popular parties (Podemos was created last year; Ciudadanos has been around for a while but has recently gained traction) are led by young, charismatic leaders. Pablo Iglesias, head of Podemos, is 37 and rose to prominance via a political discussion program on YouTube. The 36-year-old Albert Rivera, who leads Ciudadonos, is a former champion swimmer.

Both offer a very different vision of Spain to Mariano Rajoy, the current prime minister—who has lost his majority.

It isn’t yet clear who will form a government. With all the votes counted, Rajoy’s PP is still the biggest party, with 28.7% of the vote and 123 seats. The socialist PSOE are second largest with 22% and 90 seats. A coalition government may now be inevitable.

If that happens, Podemos (20.7%, and 69 seats) could hold the balance of power—as could Ciudadanos, with 13.9% and 40 seats.

As the negotiations begin, Spain’s young may well feel they finally have a say in government. Looking around Europe, they might also feel wary of the pitfalls of transition to more radical leadership. Greece’s Syriza, which swept into power on an anti-austerity wave early this year, has faced tough, bruising challenges in its attempts to stick to its principles, and its promises. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the opposition Labour Party came on a wave of optimism, driven by younger voters. But it has created fissures, and risks derailing the party completely.

Spain has entered territory that’s rocky, hopeful (for some), and uncharted.