The Spanish general election 2015 was held on 20th December, Sunday to elect the 11th Cortes Generales (national legislature) of the Kingdom of Spain. Since the Spanish transition to democracy, with a gap of 4 years and 1 month since the previous general election of 2011, it marks the longest time span between two general elections. Analysts deemed the polls to be the most unpredictable Spanish general election in decades, as a consequence of the two major political parties giving way to a new political landscape and the introduction of two new parties, who are popular with the public.
The ruling party, People’s Party (PP), with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has been credited for successfully steering Spain out of recession and boosting the country’s economy. However Rajoy’s term had been plagued with allegations of corruption. Furthermore, the party is known to have a strong Atlanticist ideology, fostering closer ties with the US and the UK, instead of France and Germany, and is therefore believed to be harmful to Spanish interests in the EU. Though never credited as an honest leader, Rajoy has tried to sell himself as the only viable option for safeguarding Spain’s economic recovery, despite the fact that the country’s unemployment is still the second highest in Europe, after Greece. Betting on continuity in fiscal policy, it pledged to bring the number of employed people up to 20 million by 2020.
The Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), ideologically located to the left of centre, considered this election to be an opportunity to return to power after 4 years in the opposition. Pedro Sanchez took over as party leader in 2014. With the charisma of being a former basketball player, he promised a revival of the party following its crushing defeat in the last general election, a result of its much-criticized handling of the beginning of Spain’s economic crisis. However, Sanchez struggled to really stand out during the election campaign. The party proposed to respect Eurozone fiscal rules, trying to negotiate looser deficit targets for the coming years, to amend the balanced budget rule introduced in the Spanish Constitution in 2011, and to scrap the ‘Labour Market Reform’ passed by Rajoy’s government.
Popular newer parties on the political stage include Podemos (Spanish for “We Can”) and Ciudadanos (Citizens in Spanish, C’s). Podemos, a radical-left party, was founded by a political science professor Pablo Iglesias, 37 just a few months before the elections as a coalition of anti-capitalist political organizations, social activists who opposed the ruling People Party’s adjustment policies and a few science scholars who had attained popularity in Spanish media. It did much better than expected in 2014 European elections and even played a part in the election of left-wing mayors to Barcelona and Madrid, as part of left-wing coalitions. As part of its manifesto for the general election, it proposed to increase income tax for higher earners, boost public spending and scrap Rajoy’s ‘Labour Market Reform’.
Ciudadanos began as a regional party in Catalonia in 2011 by leader Albert Rivera, 36. After launching nationwide during the first half of 2015, it did well in the 2015 regional elections. A centrist party with liberal views on social issues and more conservative views on economy, it poses a threat to both PP and PSOE. It used the social media to attract young voters and recruited 15,000 “cyber activists” to spread the party message on social media. It proposed to respect Eurozone fiscal rules, while asking the European Commission to slightly relax the deficit target for next year, along with promising to provide newly hired employees with full protection rights.
This election was largely dominated by economic factors - particularly with regard to unemployment. Spain is among the fastest growing economies in the EU despite its economic recovery over the past two years having been exclusively driven by domestic demand. However, doubts remain over the long-term sustainability of this recovery in a country where debt is projected to remain above 200% of GDP until at least 2020.
The result, as expected, was inconclusive – the ruling PP won maximum votes but fell short of the required absolute majority of 176 seats, raising the need for a coalition or re-election. In the 350-seat legislature, PP won 123 seats (and a vote-share of 28.72%), PSOE won 90 seats (and a vote-share of 22.01%), Podemos won 69 seats (and a vote-share of 20.66%), and Ciudadanos won 40 seats (and a vote-share of 13.93%). The results only brought on the onset of what could be weeks of complicated negotiations, leading to a deeply fragmented parliament. Although, the results do leave open the possibility for Rajoy to become one of the first leaders in Europe to be re-elected after imposing harsh austerity measures, but he faces a tremendous uphill battle to take power as the PP has limited possibilities when it comes to the alliances it needs to form a stable government. “I’m going to try and form a government,” Rajoy told cheering supporters on Sunday as the results came in. “But it won’t be easy.” In order to be able to govern for the next four years, PP will have to rely on other parties, suggesting that a protracted process of negotiations lies ahead for Spain’s political leaders.
Several scenarios are possible; many analysts had predicted that the new government would be made up of the PP and supported in some way by Ciudadanos. But now the two parties are still short of a majority. Any alliances would require a third partner which will be very complicated. An equally unlikely option is that the PP and the Socialists could get together and form a “grand pact” like that of Germany but the problem with that is that the two parties are wholly opposed to each other in terms of their beliefs. Another alternative, echoing developments in Portugal, would be a coalition of the Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos. Such a coalition would clash over issues such as Catalan independence – with Ciudadanos opposed to any talk of a referendum. This complex coalition calculus is unprecedented for Spain.
Despite a result that ranks as their worst in the party’s modern history, the Socialists are now key to the question of what comes next. However, even if the Socialists are able to amass enough votes to gain control of the lower house of parliament, their government’s attempts to push forward initiatives such as constitutional reform would likely be quashed by the country’s senate, where the election left the PP with an absolute majority.
Spain’s King Felipe VI, who will soon have to name the party that will have the chance to try and form a government, has highlighted the need for shared constitutional values in spite of regional diversities. The public is left with a large question mark over their heads on whether the Eurozone’s fourth-largest economy is threatening to become ungovernable, just as it emerges from a humiliating bailout and its worst economic crisis in over 20 years. All signs point to a difficult period of negotiation, followed by either a weak minority or coalition government or new elections if the issue is not resolved within two months, which seems like the only way; the problem is that of the 28 seats not accounted for by the 4 biggest parties. “The next government will be fragile, and the political backdrop is set to become more volatile,” Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst with Teneo Intelligence, wrote. He further added that, “a new election should not be discarded”. After the results came in, Ciudadanos’ head Albert Rivera addressed supporters and the media. “Spain has changed. Enough of a red and blue Spain,” he said, echoing descriptions of the U.S. electorate. He was right. The percentage of the vote received by the two big parties fell from more than 73% in 2011 to barely over 50%. But how the mix of colors that will be formed next functions is far from clear.
Scarpetta, Vincenzo. Spain heads to its most unpredictable election in decades. December 16, 2015
Jones, Nathan. The 2015 Spanish General Election: How a Sea Change May Not Yet Have Reached the Shore of Spanish Politics. December 14, 2015
The Spain Report Ltd. Spanish General Elections: News, Updates & Analysis.
Velloso, Agustin. Spain’s PSOE Socialist Party Follows The Same Foreign Policy As The PP Under Aznar. December 11, 2007
Mount, Ian. Spain’s Election Results Are a Mess. December 21, 2015
Kassam, Ashifa. Spanish election: national newcomers end era of two-party dominance. December 21, 2015
Llamazares, Ivan. Spanish general election preview: Podemos. December 15, 2015
Duarte, Esteban & Sills, Ben. King Felipe Says Spain’s Election Results Show Need For Dialogue. December 25, 2015
The Local. Spanish general election: the key players. December 20, 2015
- Riya Brahma
(Member, India-Spain Youth Forum)