With two sets of elections in less than two years, Spain’s political vacuum currently has no end in sight. Here’s an explanation of how the current situation has developed and why it will be so difficult to resolve.
The number of parties involved
Spain’s traditional two party political establishment has been ripped apart after the economic crisis. In the midst of a growing feeling of disenfranchisement, voters are turning to newer alternative parties with different messages and economic policies, leading to the necessity of another general election a year after the last poll as for the first time negotiations that were meant to lead to the formation of a government resulted in failure and the need for a fresh set of polls.
These parties (Ciudadanos and Unidad Podemos) have quickly gained popularity in both national and regional elections, taking a large share of the vote away from the traditional left and right establishment parties, which are the Partido Popular (PP) of current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the right and the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (PSOE) on the left.
The majorities gained by the people’s party have been gradually eroded as these new political movements have gained increasingly large percentages of the overall vote share and as a result it has become increasingly difficult for any one party to remain dominant, even when the two ‘establishment’ parties (PP and PSOE) increased their vote share slightly in the 2016 poll.
Increasing electoral turnout
As the number of political factions involved in Spain’s election campaigning has increased, the number of voters has increased through the last three successive general elections, again resulting in an increasingly divided electorate which is expressing support for a wider range of parties than the mainly two party political race of 2011. Some of the smaller parties that have previously benefited from the increasingly fragmented vote share suffered in the most recent election, including the fourth place centre-right Ciudadanos, which lost 8 seats and 0.8 percentage points of the vote compared to the result of the 2015 election.
Number of seats required to gain a majority
The consistent problem across the previous two general elections has been that none of the main parties have been able to gain enough seats to obtain an overall majority in parliament. The PP and PSOE have consistently remained the two parties best positioned to do this, in spite of the growth of smaller political movements such as Podemos and Ciudadanos.
Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has claimed that the slim winning margin gained by the PP in the latest election means that it has regained the right to negotiate and attempt to form a government. Other parties have, however, claimed that the failure to gain a decisive majority means that the PP no longer has a mandate to attempt to form a government and as a result have had difficulty in negotiations with other political parties when attempting to form a coalition. A major sticking point here has been the status of Catalonia and the desire in some quarters for the region to break away from Spain and become an independent state – a point which has led to the PP refusing to engage in talks with the popular party.
What happens next is unclear. Mariano Rajoy began negotiations with other political parties to form a new coalition government yesterday and has already held negotiations with the leader of Unidos Podemos and a number of smaller regional and nationalist parties. Alberta Rivera, leader of fourth place Ciudadanos, has already said the party will not block a PP led government. The PSOE, however, has said that it would not support a PP led coalition and would otherwise abstain from any vote of confidence.