Manuela Carmena was virtually unknown in Spanish politics until very recently, but has now taken centre stage as the new mayor of Madrid. A simple, committed citizen she has taken over the leadership of Madrid City Council after 24 years of conservative rule in the Spanish capital. Manuela Carmena, a former judge and head of a radical left coalition, led an atypical campaign in Spain's recent local elections, but achieved a staggering and unexpected success. Through her, the movement Podemos (“We can”) created in 2011, has become rooted in the Spanish political landscape. Revolting against a political class out of steam, the emerging citizen forces can no longer endure neither unemployment nor corruption.
Manuela Carmena, a reassuring figure:
A 71-year-old Manuela Carmena no longer believes in traditional politics, but instead in the close contact with citizens and their daily reality. An activist against the Francoist dictatorship and corruption throughout her career, she worked as a lawyer and judge for forty-five years. After going around in the Spanish capital on her bike and just chatting with its people, she eventually decided to go into politics. Her friends remember: "Go, lend a hand, it takes someone with experience and many proposals." A reassuring figure, she is elegant, always smiling and has a gentle authority. As the head of Ahora Madrid, she was elected as the top representative for the party in Madrid's latest municipal election, gaining around 63% of the votes. Commenting on this, she noted: "it is clear, the form that wishes the change has prevailed. And this force is not a political party, it’s you. "
With a clear agenda focused on overthrowing traditional parties, Ahora Madrid came second in the election, with 31.85% of the vote, behind the PP (Popular Party) led by the Conservative candidate Esperanza Aguirre (who achieved 34.55% of the vote). This is in itself an impressive success, defying the People's Party’s strategy of portraying Manuela Carmena as "Marxist" and "Leninist".
Manuela Carmena in the fight against unemployment and corruption:
Worried, Mariano Rajoy noticed his public policies have caused too much damage. The scandals around corruption, the austerity measure and the paradoxes of political decisions such as the law on abortion sowed too many disputes, enabling the emergence and perpetuation of new civic forces like Podemos. A few weeks before the parliamentary elections, Manuela Carmena and the Podemos movement have gained good momentum, and despite her age, the old magistrate epitomizes the challenge born in the Puerta del Sol in 2011 with the objective of bringing down a "corrupt political class and subservient to financial power."
Manuela Carmena's vision for Madrid is multi-faceted and is underpinned by many proposals. She wants to stop evictions, guarantee all basic services homes, establish an emergency plan for youth employment and those who are unemployed for long periods of time and many others. Carmena appears keen to practice what she preaches, which has made her a popular politician especially among Spain's so called 'indignadods'. For example, her campaign spending, mainly financed by micro credits, was modest and she has promised to half her salary as Mayor of Madrid. The priority of Ahora Madrid is to increase equality: "it is outrageous that in Madrid, there are two different worlds." Her opponent, Esperanza Aguirre and an admirer of Margaret Thatcher answered by mentioning that "If Podemos is the most voted party in the general election in Spain, it will be the last time we vote freely... After that we will vote, but like they do in Cuba." But these words do not reach Manuela Carmena.
On June 1st, Carmena met with José Mujica, the former Uruguayan president who has refused to occupy the presidential palace, and converted it into a shelter for the homeless. Central to Carmena’s campaign has been the symbol of "hope." She told her supporters: "Now it is time to use the language of doing. We’re going to convince them and they’re going to say, you were right. You live better in a society that is more just and equal”. Thomas Piketty, a French economist, said that: "it must be understood that this is a movement that is very pro-European, very internationalist and I think it's better to rely on this type of movements trying to change Europe and the austerity policies, rather than reject them."