Spain in Election Mood

Spain, 03 Oct - 30 Oct 2015
Catalan elections: pro-independence parties claim victory++ Record TV debate between the two emerging parties ++ National elections on December 20th. by José M. Martin-Flores, Manuel Valenciano Marx, Marco Just Quiles
Catalan elections: pro-independence parties claim victory

The latest regional elections in Catalonia in September have become an expressive stage for the pro-independence parties claiming the separation from Spain.

Four of these regionalist parties - the radical left wing party of Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) decided to run for its own - created a coalition named junts pel si (together for yes) in order to position the poll as a plebiscite. The reasoning behind this tactical move was simple: if the common platform obtained the majority of votes they would feel backed enough by the people of Catalonia to declare independence unilaterally. This was presented as an alternative to the constant denial of the central government to call for a referendum on Catalonian independence.

However, Junts pel si did not get the expected results since all pro-independence parties together indeed reached the majority of the seats (68) in the regional Parliament but still obtained less than 50% of the votes, an important symbolic mark. Nevertheless, Artur Mas, current president of the region and head of the coalition, understood that they had enough support to move on with their secessionist campaign.

Not having gained higher results forces the Junts pel si coalition to reach out for the CUP. This is kind of critical as CUP’s militants are not willing to accept Mr. Mas as a head of a newly Catalan state. In this context, the newcomer party Ciudadanos (see Cosmopublic Special Feature) became the main challenger against the pro-independence movement with 25 seats while the traditional socialists’ party (PSC) and the governing PP obtained worse results than expected, with 16 and 11 seats respectively.

No clear picture has emerged from the polls. Still, the dynamics of the pro-independence parties indicate its willingness to keep on struggling for their goal - if not separation at least a more favorable autonomy. The central government will have to deal with this constant claim, probably in a more constructive way as before.

Record TV debate between the two emerging parties

A highly anticipated TV debate hosted the leaders of the two newcomer parties, Pablo Iglesias from Podemos and his rival Albert Rivera from Ciudadanos, capturing an all-time record of 5.2 million viewers. The idea behind the show was to give the two politicians a chance to present their ideas in an informal setting, meeting over coffee in a working class cafeteria in Barcelona. The programme’s celebrity host Jordi Évole, was certainly ready-witted in framing the debate, which contrasted sharply with classical but aseptic debate format Spanish citizens are used to.

Despite its shortness of one hour, the debate provided plenty of room to outline the social and economic policy visions of both parties, which could not be more fundamentally different. For instance, when it comes to the direction of economic policies, Iglesias proposed the nationalisation of companies in strategic sectors like energy, if they fail to provide affordable services. Rivera replied that his solution is to not question market functioning but eradicate nepotism and increase competition with strong regulators in order to make services affordable. The question of Catalonia was also on the agenda. While Iglesias proposed a binding referendum in which his party would defend Spain’s unity, Rivera stated that Catalans should be “seduced” by inclusive political reforms.

According to the majority of observers Rivera could score more points during the debate. When he pointed out that the public was not convinced that Podemos could manage the Spanish economy with sensible policies, his overwhelmed rival Iglesias could only reply that that was certainly not the case.

The debate comes at a difficult moment for Podemos: Initial enthusiasm among their potential voters is giving way to dissatisfaction and sobering-up. The party has not yet found the balance between aggressive rhetoric denouncing social injustice and formulating policies which also attract the median voter. As a result, the party has lost half of its voters in the last months. Ciudadanos in turn is in a much more comfortable position since the party is able to pull on board voters from the right with economically liberal ideas and voters from the left also emphasising social policies.

National elections on December 20th

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has announced that the general elections will be held on December 20th. The official argument for choosing this date was it gives some margin until mid-January to constitute a new parliament. Setting the date earlier would have forced the government to set up the upper chamber in the midst of the Christmas holidays. Another inconvenience of an early election is that a scheduled European meeting would have withdrawn Rajoy from the electoral stage. With this announcement, Rajoy becomes the first Prime Minister to officially announce the election date on a television studio.

The leader of the main opposition party, Pedro Sanchez has pleaded that the elections be held earlier, to avoid being governed by an interim executive while a new government is formed in Catalonia. Rajoy’s term is also the longest, since the restoration of democracy in Spain. After more than four years since the last election, the Prime Minister and its party have proven highly resilient to accusations of corruption in their own rows, the economic crisis and the separatist pressures in Catalonia.

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