Manuela Carmena: New anti-austerity Mayor marks end of Madrid's old guard

Ms Carmena says one of her first measures will be to try to halt evictions of families defaulting on mortgages  from their homes

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The Independent Online

More than two decades of uninterrupted rule for the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) party in Madrid will come to an end today when Manuela Carmena, the candidate for the Ahora Madrid platform that includes anti-austerity party Podemos, is sworn in as the capital’s next mayor.

Ms Carmena, a 71-year-old former judge and human rights activist, finished second in last month’s local elections. However, she has struck a deal with the Socialist Party (PSOE) whose nine seats on the city council, added to Ahora Madrid’s 20, will give her a narrow majority.

Having promised that she would govern “not only for those who voted for change” but “also for those who do not believe in it”, Ms Carmena said in a press conference that she would have liked to have included Ciudadanos, another anti-corruption party, in the pact that sees her become Madrid’s second successive female mayor. “We coincide in some areas and with more time we’d have approached them for a more global agreement,” she said.

Although Ms Carmena will be running Madrid with a minority government, Ahora Madrid and the PSOE have already drawn up a six-point joint action plan. It includes freezing the privatisation of public services, an in-depth audit of the city’s accounts and a “Citizens’ Anti-Corruption Office”, designed to combat potential local government malpractice.


Ms Carmena says one of her first measures will be to try to halt evictions of families defaulting on mortgages  from their homes – still being repossessed at the rate of 90 a day across Spain and one of the most harrowing effects of the country’s painfully recent recession. Ms Carmena has also promised to cut the salary for the job of mayor by more than half, to €45,000 (£32,600).

Seasoned PP politician Esperanza Aguirre was her toughest rival, with Ms Aguirre claiming during the campaign that Podemos  “wanted to use the mayorship as a platform for breaking the Western democratic system as we know it”. The PP candidate actually won the most votes and seats in the vote last month, but she was not able to secure the absolute majority of seats needed to take office.

Ms Carmena helped found, and co-runs, a not-for-profit organisation called Entrepreneur Grannies which collaborates with Madrid-based social associations providing jobs and training to early school leavers and young people from low-income families.

The new mayor’s political past betrays an inner toughness which belies her soft-spoken tones. During Franco’s dictatorship Ms Carmena belonged to the Communist Party, considered to have produced the most tenacious resistance movement against the General.

Thrown out of university for political activism, she narrowly avoided being killed when a right-wing terrorist organisation named Triple AAA gunned down several of her labour rights lawyer colleagues in Madrid in April 1977. She retired as a judge in 2010.

Ms Carmena’s taking office in Madrid echoes events in Barcelona, which will also switch from being run by the Catalan Nationalists to an anti-austerity mayor, Ada Colau, backed by grassroots political movement BComu. In Spain’s third largest city, Valencia, the PP’s Rita Barberá, in office for the last 24 years, has been ousted by a coalition of left-leaning parties and organisations.