On the 20th of December 2015, while millions of Spanish families were organising and preparing for the festivities of Christmas Eve, 25,350,447 voters (or 73.2% of the total electorate) exercised their right to vote in the most ferocious general election of their times.
In these elections, we witnessed a relative sinking of the prevailing bipartisanship. Since 1982, the country’s government has unfailingly been formed by one of the two major parties: the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), following social-democratic ideas, or the People’s Party, sometimes referred to as Popular Party (PP) representing the centre-right wing electorate. But in 2015, this system gave way. Although the two aforementioned parties still hold first and second place, two alternative new groups emerged with a significant following: Podemos (We can), a left-wing party that was created after the ‘15M’ protests of 2011; and Ciudadanos (Citizens), similar to most European liberal parties.
In the 2011 general election, the conservative PP had won an absolute majority with around 186 seats. On the other hand, the PSOE got around 110 seats, in its worst result ever. These results paved the way for the creation of a conservative government lead by Mariano Rajoy, who adopted a wide range of austerity measures. Meanwhile, the PSOE was divided without a strong leader and lost many traditionally loyal voters.
Two of the phenomena that influenced this election were the Catalan situation and the exposing of new scandals linked to corruption. In the last four years, the Government of Catalonia, one of the richest regions of Spain, has been constantly challenging the central executive. They held an extrajudicial independence referendum which led to the suspension of communication between both governments. Corruption cases within the PP, with even the Prime Minister Rajoy under suspicion, have resulted in a loss of votes, although PP’s conservative Catholic electorate remains profoundly faithful.
However, even the political parties represented in the new Congress have alarming problems that have made an impact on Spanish society. The stories of the main parties have been discussed below.
The Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party is a socialist democrat party created in 1879 by Pablo Iglesias. In its first years, it followed a Marxist doctrine until 1979, a century after its creation, when Felipe González (who was Prime Minister of Spain between 1982-1996) transformed the party into a more “modern” European one. When the global economic crisis hit Spain in 2008, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was leading the PSOE in power. Considering the crisis’ severity, Zapatero’s response was a disaster. Spain’s unemployment rate reached almost 23%, with an alarming number of evictions. The PSOE was also involved in a massive political corruption case known as the Ere case, where high ranking individuals of the Andalusian regional Government appropriated millions in public funds. Its current leader, Pedro Sánchez, has tried to recover PSOE’s popularity. However, he has not had a successful campaign, nor does he have a good image as a leader.
The People’s Party is a liberal conservative party, founded in 1976 by former minister Franco Manuel Fraga. In 1989, José María Aznar, who became Prime Minister in 1996, revamped the; party into a right-wing group with close links to the Catholic Church. In 2011, Mariano Rajoy won the General Elections with an absolute majority and more than eleven million votes. Even though Rajoy’s government enforced harsh austerity measures, the main reason for its unpopularity is the emergence of several major corruption cases, such as Bárcenas or Gürtel. PP is probably the most corrupt party on the Spanish political scene.
Ciudadanos (Citizens) is a liberal party created by a Catalan civil platform in 2006. Between 2006 and 2015, it was solely active in Catalonia, aiming to contain Catalan nationalism and secessionism. Its young leader, Albert Rivera, has had a large presence in the media and enjoys a certain popularity. However, Ciudadanos have two main problems: gaining the votes of right wing citizens is a daunting task, as traditional PP’s voters remain extremely loyal; on top of which they have been accused of being funded by economic elites searching for alternative parties to compete against Podemos. After the last General Elections, they achieved around 40 seats and they have already been offered a coalition proposal with PP.
Podemos (We can) could be defined as a radical left wing party. Its origins date back to 2011, when a civic movement called 15M organized multiple demonstrations demanding a more sensitive political and social system. Its figurehead is Pablo Iglesias (who shares the name of PSOE’s founder), a young university professor who was a member of the Communist Youth Organization. They made their first appearance in the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections, where they gained 7,97 % of total votes, a not insignificant figure. The main problem of Podemos is its financing: some, mostly reliable, media agencies have suspected a connection between Podemos and the regimes of Iran and Venezuela and thus accused the party for receiving money from the aforementioned governments. Another disadvantage that could dampen Podemos’ influence, is its strategy in Catalonia (where they advocate an independence referendum), Galicia and Valencia, where they were appeared as a coalition with some pro-independence personalities and parties, such as Procés Constituent in Catalonia. They recently proposed a government agreement with PSOE.
Ensuring conomical and political stability is an arduous task, not only for these four parties, but also for the thirteen parties in total who have recently been elected into the new congress. Thirteen groups who represent thirteen different ideologies and voices within Spain. There are four possible scenarios. The first is a liberal-conservative accord with the support of Ciudadanos and PP. The second possibility is a leftist coalition sustained by Podemos and PSOE. The third potential scenario, is a new election round, which is quite likely, if we consider that both proposed coalitions need a third party to sustain a government. The final option, is the creation of a greater coalition, like the current government in Germany; a scenario that is highly unlikely, as PSOE flatly rejected the offer.
In any case, political instability is a matter of concern within Europe institutions. Spain is the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone and its turbulence could deeply affect the already fragile European economy. In a country like Spain, which began its democratic career only forty years ago, the reflection of a multi-party system is a problematic situation. For now, the two main parties that have been ruling the country with absolute majorities will have to develop an open-minded strategy, since Spain faces one of the most important challenges in its recent history.