Local elections in France and Spain have seen the rise of a new political phenomenon. In both countries, an embryonic three-party system has emerged: parties normally excluded from alternating terms in government have made electoral breakthroughs. Some did not even exist a couple of years ago, and all are born from the fallout of the economic crisis.

In Spain, local elections in Andalucía – held on 22 March and won by the Socialist Party against the People’s Party – witnessed the irruption of two new political forces. Podemos (“We Can”) and Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) tallied up a quarter of the votes and have now become the region’s third and fourth strongest parties, respectively. And this was only the first electoral contest this year in Spain: municipal and other local elections are to be held in May, while legislative elections take place in the autumn. Podemos had found unexpected success in the 2014 European elections and is to Spain what Syriza is to Greece: a party wanting to break with the politics of austerity imposed across Europe. Ciudadanos was born in 2006 on more centrist principles and has shot to popularity thanks to voters’ discontent with the economic crisis and corruption among Spain’s main parties.

It amounts to a “political earthquake”, José Oneto writes on the website República de las Ideas

the two-party system, the base for how the country functions since the beginning of the transition to democracy, is on the brink of disappearing.

El País meanwhile attributes the end of traditional bipartism to citizens’ new democratic demands —

A new generation is taking power, and it is clear that citizens are clamouring for a new approach to governing and representing the interests of the electorate. There is no doubt that the electorate is seeking new solutions to social and economic problems without wanting to dismantle a democratic system that they still believe in. But it would be completely false to label this a crisis of the two-party system, as certain politicians and newspapers repeat so obsessively.

The question is equally valid in France, where the Front National (FN) under Marine Le Pen, fresh from its triumph in the 2014 European elections, once again appeared unstoppable in the first round of departmental elections on 22 May. It seems to have overturned the interminable “alteration without alternatives” between the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement and the centre-left Socialist Party.

Le Monde observes that “a new development is the breakthrough of an extreme right party in areas that, until now, had remained unreceptive to its message”. There were a great many “three-way contests” in “cantons” (electoral wards) where the FN made it to the second round of voting.

“The fundamental rule of the political and electoral game for 50 years has been totally blown away by these three-way contests,” Le Monde columnist Gérard Courtois claims. He goes on to predict the elimination of one of the two main parties “in the first round” of the next presidential election in 2017.

The phenomenon is affecting other European countries and is part of a trend common to a number of Europe’s democracies, Diario.es reports —

In Austria, in Germany, in Sweden and in the UK, the two major political forces have been losing support for decades.