Ada Colau: Tough-talking poverty activist voted in as Barcelona's first female mayor

Win for evictions protester signals the triumph of  anti-austerity vote

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The Independent Online

Across the world parliamentary commission meetings have a reputation for being predictable. But at one in Spain two years ago, Ada Colau, then the spokeswoman of the country’s anti-eviction movement, the PAH, tore up the usual script when she referred to a representative of the country’s banks.

“If I haven’t thrown a shoe at him, it’s because I thought it was important to stay here and speak. That man is a criminal,” Ms Colau told her fellow commissioners.

Fast forward to 2015 and Ms Colau has left the PAH. But her reputation as a tough-talking activist has remained intact. And after Sunday’s municipal elections, Ms Colau is to return to Spain’s corridors of power as Barcelona’s first ever female Mayor.

Ms Colau, 41, is backed by the left-wing grassroots Barcelona en Comu coalition, including the hard-line anti-austerity movement Podemos, that gained the most city council seats – 11 – on Sunday, in which all the traditional Spanish political formations, some battered by a succession of corruption scandals, took a hammering.

The previously governing Catalan nationalists the CIU’s representation shrank from 14 to 10 seats, Spain’s ruling party, the Partido Popular, dropped from nine to three, whilst the Socialists suffered an equally humiliating reduction from 11 to four – in a city they governed from 1979 to 2011.

Around the country, the PP it lost the absolute control it had in eight of the 13 regions, including in its traditional power bases of Madrid and Valencia.

With important advances in Sunday’s regional and municipal elections across Spain, the Barcelona result represents a breakthrough for the country’s new anti-corruption, anti-austerity parties. Ms Colau’s background of anti-establishment protest, stretching back to anti-Gulf War demonstrations, has boosted her credibility amongst ordinary Catalan citizens – many battling 24 per cent unemployment.

“Although she’s left that activism behind, her past fighting in direct actions for thousands of families who were going to be evicted during the recession has helped her election now,” Germa Capdevila,  political analyst and editor of a weekly Catalan general information magazine, Esguard, told The Independent.

Another factor boosting Ms Colau’s popularity could be Barcelona’s traditionally liberal leanings, dating back to the 1936-39 Civil War. With seven political parties represented in Barcelona’s city council, Ms Adau said yesterday that her top priority will be to negotiate a stability pact with other left-wing formations, and after that she will aim to implement her 30-point direct action plan. Amongst her plans are fining banks with unoccupied dwellings on their books, financial support for low-income families, cutting back on high-paying local government salaries, official vehicles and expense accounts and investing €50m to create 2,500 new jobs. “Discussions start today,” she said.

For the CIU, losing Catalonia’s capital to Ms Colau’s coalition represents an important setback, even if  across-the-board support for pro-independence parties in Barcelona has slightly increased. Ms Colau has remained tight-lipped on whether she supports independence.