Parliament elections in Spain

Without doubt, these elections are the most intriguing in Spain since many decades. Bipartidist system which seemed apparently immovable, now it is transformed in a system of four parties: PP and PSOE, with Ciudadanos and Podemos.

First of all, the names translated of main parties that I am going to mention:

  • PP: Partido Popular (Popular Party).
  • PSOE: Partido Socialista Obrero Español (SpanishSocialistWorkersParty).
  • Ciudadanos: (Citizens).
  • Podemos: (We Can).

Political context.

Before dealing with these elections, we see briefly how we arrive to this situation. Once upon a time, 2014, jumped into all media a new party called Podemos, they started from the “left”, but they told that they searched the support of all citizens. It seemed that they went to win all seats everywhere, and they arrived strongly to the elections for European Parliament in May 2014. But over time, Podemos were moderating his proposals, to be another party more of the system.

Concurrently, the party Ciudadanos, which passed to the level of all Spain, and previously was Ciutadans (only presented in Catalonia), also seemed another rising force, but it is in 2015 when Ciudadanos appeared everywhere like other political hurricane which entered from the “center-right” side. At the same time, Podemos seemed deflate.

Finally it was the party Ciudadanos, which supported to Susana Díaz (PSOE) like president of Andalusia. Also, in the autonomic government of Madrid, Ciudadanos supported to Cristina Cifuentes (PP) like autonomical president. That is, there are precedents of strategic decisions and not so much ideological.    This year, 2015, has been a year very electoral, it was two autonomic elections, in March where in Andalusia, and in September were in Catalonia. It was foreseeable that it would be an electoral strategy from all of these parties respect to all of these elections, and that is how it went. For example, in parliament of Andalusia wasn’t elected president until June of 2015, that is, after local and autonomic elections in May of 2015. That was there because none of established parties would want to be marked like prone to some or other alliances.

By other hand, Podemos was presented under this name for elections in Andalusia, but in the case of Local and autonomic elections of May 2015, they were presented under many initials of supposed popular ensemble. They got local governments of Madrid (Ahora Madrid with support of PSOE) and Barcelona (Barcelona en Comú with support of ERC and PSC). And there are another detail to take in count, because Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias went to Greece for supporting unconditionally to Alexis Tsipras (Syriza), who after elections there, he was proclaimed Prime Minister of Greece, but he imposed to all Greeks a plan of economic rescue, harder than previous government. By this international support, Podemos received hard critics in Spain, from right like a party which support to Greeks radicals who finish defeated in front of “sanity” of EU, and from left, like a party which supported to another traitor party in Greece, sold in front of troika[1].

But in autonomic elections of Catalonia in September 2015 was where Ciudadanos and Podemos, really were consolidated in their political race to general elections. By one side, Ciudadanos was consolidated like the constitutionalist force in a parliament with majority of separatism, in fact, Ciudadanos is the second party by seats in this parliament; and Podemos was presented like “Catalunyasiquees pot” (Cataluña yes can), and it was consolidated like a leftist party but not separatist.

In this context, of crossed alliances from some parties with others, without repeating always this scheme: Left supports left, and right supports right. The only thing certain is that we have a year full of changes in parties and many alliances. Definitely, there are two parties of national range that sink to almost disappear: IU and especially UPyD, that seem replaced with naturalness by Podemos and Ciudadanos. Meanwhile, PP used each time more clearly the tandem President-Vice-president, that is Rajoy-Santamaría, like old man and young woman to meet again with their voters, because of rest of big parties had young leaders, like PSOE which chose to Pedro Sanchez like new national leader.

Political cleavages.

To schematize and helping to understand this context, certainly in a simplified form, we have several political cleavages:

  • Left / Right: Podemos-PSOE / PP-Ciudadanos.
  • Old politics / New Politics: PP-PSOE / ​Podemos-Ciudadanos.

This is important to understand because electoral campaign was performed, more above these simplified notions than above concrete contents. This is usual because electoral campaigns are more personal or emotional affinities than concrete political contents. Voters receive simplified and emotional messages because generally is what they need to vote. There are a lack of interest to polity, politics and policy, but certainly has increased since 2011 with the 15-M. Continuing with this cleavages, the messages on first cleavage were clear, left is bad according to right, and right is bad according to left. They blame each other about disasters of Spain. But, it is more interesting the second cleavage, because of parties, in pairs, united to criticize the new parties regardless of the supposed ideology (left or right), for example, the PP and PSOE spoke of not voting for experiments, they are the ones who know how to rule well. And Podemos and Ciudadanos spoke to regenerate or change politics, and the old parties are thieves and they represent the real change. Of course, other issue very spoken on campaign was the reform of constitution, that support mainly Podemos and Ciudadanos, whereas PP and PSOE or don’t want reform at this moment or join to this reformist current.

Before passing to the results, I think it is important to note some political characteristics for which are valued at these parties:

Generally you can always find the tandem Right-economic policy, Left - social policy. And again, on the right, that the PP makes better economic policies and proves this with his administration since 2011 and since 1996 too, and Ciudadanos who can make better policies and wouldn’t have tens of defendants for corruption. And on the left, PSOE was presented as an experienced party social policies, referring to past periods as Zapatero's presidency (2004-2011) and that its aim is to change all the laws of PP against cuts, and Podemos was presented as a party of the people, without corruption like PSOE, and they can do more social policies, and the referendum about Catalonia.

Otherwise, it can put three campaign themes: political corruption, employment / taxes, and social policies. Overall, these four big parties agreed on all anti-corruption laws, policies to promote employment, reduce taxes, and increase social policies. Therefore, the speeches are focused more on the emotional than political. Attracting passionate vote rather than reasoned vote, as well, in all these political parties occurred corruption cases and therefore, all of them arrived more or less stained by the crimes they criticized in campaign.

And I don’t forget another issue that has been the subject of campaign, this is separatism in Catalonia. Here, PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos are closing ranks with the Constitution of 1978 and there will be no secession, whereas Podemos speak of a referendum on independence although they prefer the victory of non-independentists. During September and October was a campaign issue, but in November and December like positions of big parties are clear, this issue passed into the background. More over by the huge corruption cases in the same family of the former president of the autonomous community of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, of CiU party. Also, Artur Mas, of the same party (CiU) and head of the Catalan separatist process was not named president of the Catalan autonomy since the elections in September 2015. Perhaps this lack of definition is the same case as in the Andalusian case where no president until after the local and autonomic elections in May 2015, and in Catalonia there won’t be president until after of these elections in December.


We already have the official results[2], and I pass to analyze general data about participation: It increased participation by more than 5 points and abstention instead fell, also decreased the null and blank votes.

About votes to parties, PP and PSOE have lost dozens of seats in Congress, the PP pass from 186 to 123 and PSOE from 110 to 90. While Podemos and associated brands get 69 seats and Ciudadanosget 40 seats. If we consider some forecast of leftist alliance (PSOE-Podemos) would add 159 seats, and alliance of rightists (PP-Citizens) would add 163 seats.

The absolute majority is 176 seats, so that, both options require the abstention of the regionalist or separatist parties that are minority, but in this context they are necessary to have an absolute majority to form the government.

As prediction, it is difficult to predict what might happen. This situation between 4 parties is unique in the history of this regime which was born in 1978, so we cannot bet on something concrete. In Spain there have never been coalition governments, only support for a party to form a government and in return receive concessions. Perhaps, now, a coalition government is formed between two parties that support it, or perhaps three of the four main parties.

The only sure thing is that nothing seems certain in this political context, and must be aware of each event, how will develop the separatist matter in Catalonia, because maybe that result in an anti-separatist front formed by PP-citizens-PSOE. Or a front anti-PP formed by PSOE-Citizens-Podemos. It is difficult to envisage a scenario because now is when these four parties, both PP and PSOE as the old parties, as Ciudadanos and Podemosas new parties, they must learn to negotiate a government, or, we will make other elections.

What it seems certain is that if these two new main parties fail in their political work or are shown as corrupt and inept as the old parties, probably the vote that went from PP to Citizens and from PSOE-IU to Podemos, they will return to their previous parties because they will be the option less bad, or as we say in Spain, “better bad known than good to know”. The games of politics have started right now.

[1]Composed by three organizations: European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Commission.ECB+IMF+EC