Thursday, 24 December 2015

12 things you should know about the 2015 Spanish election

On the 20th of December 2015 Spain experienced a democratic political revolution. The two party duopoly on political power was consigned to history as millions of Spaniards voted for alternative political parties. In this article I'm going to run through some of the important issues.

The era of two party politics is over

Two political parties have held a duopoly on political power in Spain ever since the Franco dictatorship came to an end in the 1970s. PP share the same fanatically right-wing economic stance as the Tories in the UK however they're significantly more right-wing in terms of social policy (during the last parliament they attempted to make abortion illegal and introduced 30,000€ fines for participating in "unauthorised" political protests).

The PSOE are very much like the UK Labour Party during the New Labour era. They masquerade as socialists but actually promote orthodox right-wing economics behind a thin veneer of pseudo-socialist slop.

The 2015 general election saw the share of the vote taken by these two parties reduced to just 51% between them. PP took 29% of the vote which was their worst performance since 1989 and PSOE took 22% which was the worst performance in their entire history.


Anyone who thinks the two big establishment parties might bounce back to regain their former dominance should consider the voter demographics. The new left-wing anti-corruption party Podemos came third overall but they were the most popular party of all amongst under 35s. The new centre-right party Ciudadanos was the most popular with 35-44 year olds. The older generations were the only ones to stay fiercely loyal to PP and to a lesser extent PSOE.

The ruling PP used similar tactics to the Tories in the UK. They loaded the burden of austerity onto young people (who suffered 50%+ unemployment for the majority of PP's time in government) and workers (who had their wages and labour rights significantly eroded) while bribing the older generations with pension increases. The ploy worked in that it secured the votes of the elderly, but attacking the younger generations so mercilessly is clearly political suicide from a long-term strategic perspective.

Economic exiles

Under the punishing ideological austerity of the PP government unemployment in Spain has remained ludicrously high. General unemployment is still 21.6% and youth unemployment has remained around 50% for years. The result of this is hundreds of thousands of predominantly young Spanish workers leaving Spain to find work elsewhere in the EU. The electoral impact of such heavy outward immigration is difficult to estimate, but it's impossible to say that it hasn't had an influence on the outcome.

On the one hand the economic exile of so many younger voters will have benefited the two establishment parties favoured by older voters, but on the other hand if economic conditions weren't so incredibly dire as to drive hundreds of thousands of voters out of the country, it's likely a significantly smaller percentage of the electorate would have decided to vote for new alternative parties like Podemos and Ciudadanos.

The right-wing PP can't hold onto power

The suspicion of many in Spain was that the new centre-right political party Ciudadanos were going to enable PP back into power despite their pre-election promises that they wouldn't. As the results came in it became clear that a PP-Ciudadanos alliance would have nowhere near enough seats to form a majority government. This means that the only conceivable way for PP to hold onto power would be to form an alliance with their traditional rivals for absolute power PSOE (I'll explain why this is unlikely under the PSOE subheading).

PP are still the biggest party so they could attempt to form a minority government, but the consequences of a right-wing party attempting to hold onto power in such a manner have only just been played out in Portugal. The Portuguese right-wing minority government was widely regarded as an anti-democratic power-grab and lasted only a matter of weeks before they were replaced by a left-wing coalition with a clear majority of seats between them.

The rise of Podemos continues

The party that finished third was only founded in March 2014. They finished just shy of PSOE with 20.7% of the vote (to PSOE's 22.0%). Due to the disproportional nature of the Spanish electoral system this translated to a much lower 69 seats to PSOE's 90, but despite this, their performance can only be seen as a continuation of their remarkably successful growth. They have not only established themselves as a significant parliamentary force, they also have the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona and secured very strong backing in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Podemos were the most popular party of all in two of the four Catalan regions (Barcelona and Tarragona) and were the most popular national party in both of the others (Girona and Lleida). Podemos were the most popular party in two of the three Basque regions (Álava and Gipuzkoa) and only finished narrowly behind the Basque Nationalist party in the other (Biscay).

Aside from these clear successes Podemos also finished as the second most popular party in nine other regions (A Coruña, Alicante, Balearic Islands, Castellón, Las Palmas, Madrid, Navarre, Pontevedra and Valencia).


Podemos were not the only new political party to do well. The centre-right party Ciudadanos finished in fourth place with 13.9% of the vote and 40 seats.

Ciudadanos undoubtedly did well, but they fell short of their objective of winning enough seats to hand power back to PP. It doesn't matter that Ciudadanos repeatedly promised not to enable PP and Mariano Rajoy back into power, it was always clear that that was their objective. Many people saw their rise in popularity as an attempt by the Spanish establishment to back a Trojan horse political party to soak up the protest votes and derail the exponential rise of Podemos.

The suspicions that Ciudadanos are just an establishment Trojan horse were confirmed in the days after the election when their leader Albert Rivera called for the two establishment parties to join Ciudadanos in a grand coalition in order to lock Podemos out of power.

To go from posing as an anti-establishment party and promising not to keep PP in power to actively promoting a PP led establishment coalition in the space of a few days either side of the election show Ciudadanos up for the cynic political opportunists that they are (and always seemed to be to anyone with a grain of political sense).

PSOE are in huge trouble

The supposedly socialist party PSOE suffered the worst result in their entire history winning just 22% of the vote. This leaves them in an extraordinarily tricky position. It's hard to envisage a course of action that will not end up damaging their party even further.

The most damaging course of action of all would obviously be for them to enable their historical rivals PP back into power by joining a grand coalition. We only need to look at what happened to PASOK in Greece after they enabled the right-wing pro-austerity New Democracy party into power in 2012. The move was so unpopular with their own supporters that they ended up slumping to just 4.7% of the vote in 2015 reducing them to the 7th party in Greece, a spectacular fall from grace for a party that had formed a majority government in 2009 with 43.9% of the vote.

Another option for PSOE is to form a left-wing coalition, but this is dangerous territory for them too. If the left-wing coalition goes well then it's likely that the newcomers Podemos will take most of the credit at the next election, but if it goes badly PSOE will end up losing votes over it. A weak left-wing coalition looks like a lose-lose situation for PSOE.

Another option is for them to refuse to join in with any coalition leaving PP to attempt to form an incredibly weak minority government that would be bound to fall triggering new elections. This is also a risky strategy because everyone knows that they only finished ahead of Podemos by the slimmest of margins, so their propaganda line from the 2015 election that they are "the only party that can stand up to PP" has been rendered completely ineffective. It's clear to everyone who opposes PP that Podemos are in the ascendency and PSOE are in rapid decline.

A quick look at Portugal

There are a number of obvious parallels between the 2015 general elections in Spain and Portugal. Both saw the ruling right-wing party lose their majority, both saw the head of state (the right-wing Portuguese President and the King of Spain) hoping to enable the right-wing party back into power, both elections saw a huge rise in support for left-wing anti-austerity parties.

The Portuguese President encouraged his right-wing party colleagues to squat in power with a weak minority government, but they were soon defeated and replaced with a left-wing coalition of the nominally left-wing main opposition party and two genuinely left-wing parties.

It remains to be seen whether the King of Spain will encourage Mariano Rajoy and PP to squat in power with a weak minority government, or whether the Spanish establishment have learned their lesson from what happened to their Iberian neighbours just a few months previously.

The unfair electoral system

The Spanish electoral system is a lot fairer than the staggeringly disproportional and unrepresentative system in the UK, but it's still heavily skewed in favour of the two main parties and badly in need of reform.

The Spanish system is much fairer than the UK system because they have multi-member constituencies elected using a system of proportional representation. This means that smaller parties are not locked out of the political system as they are under the UK's absurdly disproportional single member constituency system,

The major problem with the Spanish system is the wild variance in size between highly populated metropolitan constituencies and much more sparsely populated rural constituencies. The result of these disparities in constituency sizes is a huge bias in favour of the ruling PP.

The number of votes cast for PP per representative in the Spanish parliament was 58,664. The number of votes per PSOE representative was 61,453 but the number of votes cast per Podemos representative was 75,209.

One of Podemos' key non-negotiable demands is reform of this unfair electoral system, so if they do end up sharing power as part of a coalition government (or winning outright in a repeat election) we should expect Spain to adopt a much fairer voting system.

Electoral spending

Podemos have by far the biggest social media presence of any of the Spanish political parties. In fact their 1.043 million Facebook followers absolutely dwarfs the 469,000 followers of the other three major national parties combined (PP 124,000, PSOE, 113,000, C's 232,000).

It's interesting to note the significant reverse correlation between social media presence and electoral spending. Podemos spent only 0.48€ per vote cast in their favour. Ciudadanos spent 1.26€ per vote, PSOE spent 1.63€ per vote and PP spent 2.00€ per vote.

To me it's not actually that surprising that Podemos ended up spending less than a quarter of the money per vote than PP did, because a well orchestrated social media campaign is the best free advertising possible. If some bloke from Yorkshire who has never appeared on the TV or even in his local newspaper (me) can reach millions of people per week with his social media content with 220,000 followers, then a well staffed and well funded political party with over a million Facebook followers should be able to reach staggering numbers of people, especially during an election campaign.

A lot of people still sneer at social media as if it's some kind of meaningless distraction when it comes to serious politics, but the result of the Spanish election makes it absolutely clear that social media presence is an increasingly vital component of electoral success, (especially for alternative parties that suffer relentless negative coverage in the pro-establishment mainstream press).

Another election?

It seems increasingly likely there will be a replay of the Spanish general election in 2016.

A grand coalition including both PP and PSOE is the only conceivable way that a coalition government with a strong majority could be formed, and it's clear that a move by PSOE to prop up their traditional rivals and enable Mariano Rajoy back into power would destroy the credibility of their party.

Either no government will be formed meaning that new elections will be automatically triggered within two months, or a weak government will be formed but will be thrown into crisis at the first major disagreement between the rival coalition parties.

Unless PSOE decide to commit electoral suicide, another set of elections sooner rather than later looks almost inevitable.

What does this all mean for the EU?

The rise of Podemos must strike fear into the hearts of the pro-austerity technocrats who run the EU because were Spain to reject ideological austerity then it would be a much bigger problem for them than Greece.

We all know that the Troika of the EU, European Central Bank and IMF managed to back the left-wing anti-austerity Greek government into a corner and humiliate them by forcing them to carry out an extreme-right programme of socially destructive austerity and ideologically driven privatisations. However Greece is just a small country that generates just 1.3% of economic activity in the EU. For the unelected technocrats who run the EU it's not a problem to vandalise the Greek economy for "the greater good" of protecting the interests of German and French banks. However Spain is a much bigger economy, the fifth biggest in the EU and the fourth biggest in the Eurozone. Spain's economy generates 7.6% of economic activity in the EU making it a much bigger problem if their elected government were to reject right-wing ideological austerity.

The EU, ECB and IMF Troika spent the first part of 2015 grinding Greece into submission, ignoring the will of their electorate and humiliating their democratically elected government. If Spain ends up with an anti-austerity government it's going to represent a much bigger problem for the unelected pro-austerity technocrats. Such an occurrance would mean that Spain, Portugal and Greece would all have anti-austerity governments. The economic repercussions of the Troika campaign of economic destruction in Greece (1.3% of the EU economy) were severe enough, but launching similar concurrent campaigns against Spain (7.6%) and Portugal (1.3%) would mean that the EU would be at economic war with over 10% of its own economy (13% of its own population)!

The issue for Spain is whether they have the confidence to stand up and reject austerity, or whether they're so afraid of the humiliation and economic destruction unleashed on Greece that they'd overlook the fact that Spain is a much more powerful economy. If Spain have the confidence to try it they could lead the fightback against the EU's socially and economically destructive campaign of ideological austerity, especially if they ally themselves with Greece and Portugal. 

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

The remarkable rise of Podemos in Spain

Will Labour learn anything from the annihilation of PASOK in Greece?
The rise of the non-traditional parties in UK politics
The pre-election contract the Tories want you to forget all about
Why you should use your critical thinking skills, no matter what the information source
The appeal of Pablo Iglesias and Podemos
Ideological austerity is a con



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