extremism & populism
Dec 29

The Spanish Deadlock

Lucie Coufalová [1]


Since 1982, the Spanish lower chamber has been dominated by two strong players, the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and the centre-right PP (People’s Party). Hence the PP’s victory in the last general election, and the socialists coming second, was not a surprise. Nevertheless, both parties, blemished by numerous corruption scandals, lost an important number of seats. The demand for change brought Spain to the political deadlock as a new government still has not been set up.

In the last three decades, the Spanish government has been completely dominated by the social-democratic PSOE or the conservative PP, with only the IU (Left United) reaching slightly more than 10% in 1996. However, when the Spaniards went to the polls the last time, on the 20th of December 2015, they expressed their desire for change, and the dichotomous political system of PP and PSOE was broken.

As it was announced by the polls, this time the voters gave an opportunity to the left-wing party Podemos (We Can), often compared to the Greek Syriza, and to the centrist party Ciudadanos (Citizens), assigning them 20.66 % and 13.93 % respectively. The result of the last general election process is a consequence on the one hand of the country’s economic performance and, on the other hand, of the corruption scandals. A huge worsening of the perception of the democracy among its inhabitants, as shown by the European Social Survey, may have also played a role.


Figure 1: Results of Spanish parliamentary election (%)

Source: Ministry of the Interior (2015)


Mariano Rajoy, the PP’s leader and the Spanish prime minister for the last four years, boasts about lowering the unemployment rate from 26.92 % in 2013 to 20.9 % in the ultimate quarter of 2015, notwithstanding, his opponents argue that this change was only superficial. The National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) data shows that in 2015 there have been created 525,100 job vacancies, from which 170,600 were indefinite whereas 335,100 were temporary. Despite its lowering tendency, also the youth unemployment remains still terribly high reaching 46.24 % in the last quarter of the mentioned year. Moreover, regardless of the sound economic recovery registered during the same period (3.2 %), driven by the domestic demand, the absolute GDP of €1,081,190 million, was still below its 2008 level (€1,116,207 million). The key factor in the recovery was private consumption boosted by easier access to credit for both the firms and the households, in addition to increasing investment.


Figure 2: Growth in real GDP and unemployment rate in Spain in period 2000-2015


Source: IMF (2016)


Nevertheless, according to the European Commission (2016) social exclusion and poverty indicators have considerably deteriorated in the recent years. At-risk-of poverty rate reached 29.2 % in 2014 and it has involved 1.3 million people more than in 2010. The household disposable income has declined, as well as the overall living standards, and the inequality still continues increasing. Children are the most endangered group, however, the per capita spending on family and children had fallen from €343 in 2009 to €295 in 2013. Another threat can be seen in the excessive fiscal deficit (expected to amount to 4.8 % in 2015 and 3.6 % GDP in 2016) and the growing public debt oscillating around 100 % of GDP.


Figure 3: People at risk of poverty in Spain in period 2004-2014 (%)

Source: Eurostat (2016)


In addition to the economic factors, also the political ones may have played an important role. The PP’s most important electoral promise in 2011 was to fight against corruption, but especially Luis Bárcenas’, the PP’s cashier case, uncovered illegal funding of the party and dense interconnectins between the political and the economic powers. Widespread corruption inside the party has sullied also the names of its general secretary María Dolores Cospedal and Mariano Rajoy himself. This fact, together with the increasing social inequality, led the voters to demand a change. Some of them, deeply disappointed with the conservative PP, opted for the liberal Ciudadanos. Others, tricked by the promises of Pablo Iglesias, decided upon Podemos. Yet the corruption is a core theme in the political programme of both parties, Podemos clearly uses a populist strategy of opposing the people and the corrupt political elite, and promises to give them a chance to participate in the decision-making process. This has been lacking during Rajoy’s last electoral period. Both parties promise a remedy to solve the problem with the temporary contracts. Ciudadanos focuses on the gulf between insiders and outsiders, whereas Podemos is definitely more radical. Iglesias and his party propose to close the Temporary Work Agencies, to forbid firms that make profit to fire workers, and to reduce the weakly working hours to 35. Beside these, retirement at the age of 60, nationalization of the key sectors of the economy and a simple erasure of a part of the Spanish debt, are the key points of their programme.


Figure 4: Corruption Perception Index (2000-2015)

Source: Transparency International (2016)


Neither the established PP (28.72 %) nor PSOE (22.01 %) obtained enough votes. In addition, the newcomers are still not sufficiently powerful to dominate the Spanish political scene. Till nowadays, due to such fragmentation and polarization of the political system, a coalition among any of these parties is very tricky and therefore a new voting process can be expected.

Recent polls published by El País on 13th March show that a new election would not lead to a significant change in the political panorama. Yet, they insinuate that Mr. Rivera’s Ciudadanos (19.5 %) may promote to the third place, capitalizing on Podemos’ (16.8 %) penalization for the non-cooperative behaviour of its leader. Rivera’s proposal to substitute Rajoy as the leader of the winning party has been appreciated by the voters. Indeed, less than half of the sympathizers of the PP want the current prime minister to lead the party to the next election. It seems, however, that PP (26.0 %) and PSOE (23.1 %) would still preserve their privilege to try to form the government again.


[1] Faculty of Economics and Administration, Masaryk University (lcoufalova@mail.muni.cz)



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