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‘Outraged’ mayors take power in Madrid and Barcelona

Former judge Manuela Carmena was sworn in as mayor of Madrid while activist Ada Colau was set to become Barcelona’s first female mayor.

By (AFP)

Published: Sat 13 Jun 2015, 7:29 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:57 PM

The new mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena waves as she leaves the Cibeles Palace, City-Hall of Madrid, after being sworn in during the investiture session. -AFP 

Madrid - Activists from the Indignados (Outraged) protest movement that grew out of Spain’s economic crisis took power in the country’s two biggest cities on Saturday after thrashing the ruling conservatives in local elections.

Former judge Manuela Carmena, a communist in her youth, was sworn in as mayor of Madrid on Saturday morning, while 41-year-old activist Ada Colau was set to become Barcelona’s first female mayor later in the afternoon.

Carmena ended 24 years of conservative Popular Party rule in the Spanish capital.

“I promise to loyally respect the duties involved in being mayor of Madrid,” Carmena said as she was sworn in, minutes after the city council officially voted her in as leader of the city of three million.

The council chamber broke into applause, as supporters cried out the rallying call of the Indignados movement: “Yes, it is possible!”

Carmena became mayor after her leftist platform, Ahora Madrid, forged an alliance with the main opposition Socialists, some two weeks after thrashing the ruling Popular Party in local and regional elections in May.

“We are at the service of the citizens of Madrid. We want to govern by listening. We want them to call us by our first names,” Carmena said, just after her victory was announced.

Highlighting her concern with poverty in Spain, where many live precariously even though the worst of the crisis is over, Carmena told the story of a 63-year-old woman named Julia whom she met on the capital’s main square, Puerta del Sol, who lives on 300 euros ($340) a month.

Madrid suffers a 16 per cent unemployment rate, while many who have jobs do not earn enough to get through the month.

Carmena has promised to stamp out corruption, develop public transport, increase subsidies for poor families and slash the mayor’s salary by more than half to 45,000 euros ($51,000).

Many of the new mayor’s supporters come from the Indignados protest movement that occupied Spanish squares four years ago, demanding an end to government spending cuts to healthcare and education, and to corruption.

Carmena’s platform includes neighbourhood associations, environmentalist groups and Spain’s new anti-austerity party, Podemos, whose strong gains could make them kingmakers in what analysts have described as a historic general election in December.

Podemos’s pony-tailed leader Pablo Iglesias was present at the city council meeting, clapping for his ally Carmena when the result was read out.

Many see the change as a barometer of the mood on the street ahead of December’s election.

“Our main objective is to win the general election,” Iglesias beamed as he left the city hall after Saturday’s vote.

People from diverse backgrounds joined the protest movement that brought Carmena to power, united in their hunger for change in a country ruled by the Popular Party since 2011.

Ideologically, Ahora Madrid has its roots in anarchist and libertarian movements and is inspired by the Paris Commune, a left-wing revolutionary government that briefly ruled Paris in 1871.

Ahora Madrid’s own literature also mentions Kabouters, a Dutch anarchist group of the 1970s that occupied buildings, European “green” movements and various resistance movements as influences.

It also reflects the vision of “libertarian municipalism” advocated by the late New York ecologist Murray Bookchin and the struggles by Madrid neighbourhood associations against the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

In her youth, Carmena herself was a communist and dissident against Franco’s rule, using her skills as a lawyer to defend detainees’ rights.

In Saturday’s council meeting, she won 29 votes of 59 representatives — nine from the Socialists and 20 from the new Ahora Madrid councillors.

In Barcelona, Colau, a member of the anti-eviction movement, was elected in the May vote, and her position was secured when the ERC, a left-wing independent party, and the Socialists threw their support behind her.

The anti-eviction activist is expected to be sworn in at a council meeting in Barcelona that starts at 5pm (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

Colau has pledged to fight inequalities in the city of 1.6 million by putting an end to evictions, lowering energy prices and bringing in a minimum monthly income of 600 euros ($675).

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