|Demonstrators are defying a ban on political protests held on the day of elections [GALLO/GETTY]|
Hundreds of demonstrators in Spain are planning to extend their protests against the Spanish government’s austerity measures and the political parties that they blame for soaring unemployment.
A show-of-hands vote at a meeting in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, where demonstrators have erected a makeshift camp, saw protesters indicate that they planned to stay at least until May 29.
“We have decided to stay at least until [next] Sunday at 12pm [10:00 GMT],” a protest organiser declared after the vote.
The protests, which have sprung up across Spain, have overshadowed the local and regional elections held on Sunday, with protesters calling on Spaniards to reject both the ruling Socialists and the centre-right Popular Party, the two main political options in Spain.
The polls saw the Socialists lose out as voters vented their anger at the highest jobless rate in the industrialised world, but that right’s electoral gains are being not attributed to the protesters.
The vote left the Socialists out of power in most of the country’s cities and almost all the 17 autonomous regions.
The outcome is a rebuke to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, who has been applauded abroad for his fiscal discipline during the euro zone crisis but is unpopular at home as the economy stagnates.
An estimated 30,000 people have joined the camp in Puerta del Sol square, which has expanded in the days prior to the election and owes much of its organisation to social networking.
Leila Nachawati, a Spanish-Syrian activist and blogger who is attending the protest, told Al Jazeera: “The camp has been growing every day. It was organised in the beginning by a youth group, Democracia Real Ya [Real Democracy Now] but it’s actually not only young people who are coming.”
Functions inside the camp are carried out by committee.
“We have cleaning committees and food committees … all leftovers every night are given to shelters and people who sleep on the street,” Nachawati said.
By maintaining the camp, the demonstrators were flouting a national ban on political protests held on the eve of elections and the day of the vote.
But while Spain’s electoral commission declared that demonstrations illegal, the government did not send in police to enforce the ban, fearing violence after a week of peaceful protest.
More than 34 million people were eligible to vote Sunday, choosing 8,116 mayors, 68,400 town councillors and 824 members of regional parliaments for 13 of the 17 semi-autonomous regions.
The elections were the first major vote since the government passed huge spending cuts and unpopular reforms in the wake of the global financial crisis.