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Anti-Establishment MPs Shake Up Spain's New Parliament


New lawmakers in Spain took up their seats in Parliament - I beg your pardon. In Spain, new lawmakers took up their seats in Parliament this week after recent elections. It is a very different looking legislature now thanks to a number of anti-establishment members of Parliament who are making their debut. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid on the changing face of Spanish politics.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The first day of Parliament in Spain is usually all about power suits and black limos with tinted windows. But this week...


FRAYER: A brass band marched up to the doors of Spain's Congress, escorting a new crop of lawmakers, younger and more diverse than ever before. Many arrived by bicycle, wearing T-shirts instead of neckties and sporting ponytails and even dreadlocks. A dozen of them are in their 20s, recent college grads. The new lawmakers include Spain's first black MP and a physicist confined to a wheelchair. Podemos has arrived. The left-wing party has transformed and unsettled Spanish politics, weaning about a fifth of parliamentary seats in last month's election. In large part because of Podemos, this parliament has a record number of women - 40 percent.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: Carolina Bescansa brought her 6-month-old baby and breast-fed through the opening session. She said she wants the parliament to look like the people it represents.

CAROLINA BESCANSA: We made a new organization that is basically democratic. Everyone can participate in Podemos. If you put your name in the web of Podemos, you can take part in all democratic process.

FRAYER: That's who many of these new Spanish lawmakers are, citizens and activists who decided to enter politics for the first time.


JOAN BALDOVI: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "It's a festival of democracy," said another new Podemos MP, Joan Baldovi from Valencia. They tweeted selfies and pumped fists inside the chamber as older white, mostly male MPs from the conservative Popular Party, the PP, looked on bewildered.


CELIA VILLALOBOS: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "These young guys from Podemos - I don't have a problem with dreadlocks." Celia Villalobos, a veteran conservative MP, told Spanish television. "I just want them to take a shower so that they don't give me head lice," she said. Her comments have gone viral on Twitter with Podemos supporters posting quips in response about the cleanliness of her conservative party tainted by corruption allegations. This so-called rasta row reveals the clash of cultures that suddenly exist in Spain's parliament, says Matthew Bennett, editor of The Spain Report, a web magazine.

MATTHEW BENNETT: The composition of the parliament has changed. It does represent Spaniards better than before perhaps.

FRAYER: For nearly 40 years, Spain has been governed by either the conservatives or the socialists. But now there are four main parties, none with a majority, all now locked in coalition negotiations, Bennett says.

BENNETT: All four of the major parties seem to have unmovable, unshakable red lines, Podemos on the left, and the PP on the right, are least likely to budge.

FRAYER: If they can't figure out a way to work together, fresh elections could come this spring. For Podemos, it will be a test of whether these new faces can affect real change in Spanish politics. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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