'Outraged' mayors take charge of Madrid, Barcelona

'Outraged' mayors take charge of Madrid, Barcelona
Manuela Carmena
PHOTO: AFP

MADRID - Leftist activists from the Indignados (Outraged) protest movement that grew out of Spain's economic crisis took charge Saturday of city halls in Madrid and Barcelona, after thrashing the ruling conservatives in local elections.

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

In Madrid, Carmena ended 24 years of conservative Popular Party rule.

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

"Here we are. Thank you very much. Now we are all mayors," she tweeted as soon as the result was announced.

The hall broke out in 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, clinched a deal with the main opposition Socialists, some two weeks after after thrashing the ruling Popular Party in local and regional elections in May.

Many of her supporters come from the Indignados protest movement against government spending cuts and corruption that occupied Spanish squares four years ago.

Carmena's platform includes neighbourhood associations, environmentalist groups and Spain's new anti-austerity party, Podemos, whose strong gains made them kingmakers in what analysts have described as a historic vote.

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

Ahora Madrid platform is without a doubt "a unique case in Europe" for a capital city, said Fernando Mendez, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Direct Democracy at the University of Geneva.

People from diverse backgrounds joined the movement, united in their hunger for change as Spain reeled under high unemployment, corruption and government spending cuts to healthcare and education.

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.

Two women at the helm

Ahora Madrid's bible, "The Municipal Bet", a pamphlet distributed to its activists, mentions Kabouters, a Dutch anarchist group of the 1970s that occupied buildings, European "green" movements and various resistance movements.

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 plenary, she won 29 votes of 59 representatives - among them nine from the Socialists and 20 from the new Ahora Madrid councillors.

In Barcelona, Colau, a member of the anti-eviction movement, was elected mayor in the May vote.

The anti-eviction activist is expected to be sworn in later on Saturday afternoon.

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

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