June 12, 2015 / 9:50 AM / 2 years ago

Spanish leftist mayor ends 24 years of PP rule in Madrid

Manuela Carmena poses for the media in central Madrid, Spain, May 25, 2015.Juan Medina

MADRID(Reuters) - A left-wing former judge, backed by anti-austerity party Podemos, was named mayor of Spain's capital on Friday, ending 24 years of center-right Popular Party (PP) rule in Madrid and delivering a setback to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The PP's loss of the symbolic seat of power in the country's capital comes after its rout in municipal and local elections last month, a reflection of Spaniards' anger at spending cuts and corruption scandals before November's general election.

Manuela Carmena, 71, cut a deal with the opposition Socialists to form a coalition administration. Her electoral campaign centered on blocking the privatization of public services and preventing household evictions.

Although the PP candidate, party veteran Esperanza Aguirre, won most votes and seats in the May 24 city council election she was not able to secure the 29-seat absolute majority needed to take office.

Carmena's alliance of community activists, Ahora Madrid ('Madrid Now') is mirrored by a similar left-wing coalition in Barcelona, which is led by anti-eviction campaigner Ada Colau, who was elected mayor of Spain's second-biggest city on May 24.

The appointment of the two women reflects a broader trend of splintering political allegiances in Spain. After six years of economic crisis and a series of corruption scandals, voters are abandoning the PP and opposition Socialists for new parties.

Retired from the legal profession since 2010, Carmena had set up a shop selling baby clothes sewn by ex-convicts. She turned down initial approaches from Podemos ("We Can") leader Pablo Iglesias to lead the campaign for Ahora Madrid, then relented in March.

She became the favored candidate of bohemians and social activists. Artists created a series of posters for her during her campaign, including one of her with a Catwoman mask, a play on the nickname 'cats', given to people from Madrid.

Although representative of the change in the Spanish political landscape after more than 40 years dominated by the two main parties, Carmena says she is not affiliated to any political party.

"I'm much more interested in improving people's lives than in politics," she said in a recent interview with El Pais newspaper.

Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Larry King

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