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Spain’s Right Turn – The General Election, November 20, 2011

- November 21, 2011

Since Josh is temporarily unavailable, I am posting this election round-up by “Raj Chari”:http://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/staff/raj_chari/index.php, who is a Senior Lecturer (the Irish equivalent of associate professor) in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin, in his stead.

The centre-right Partido Popular (PP), under the leadership of Mariano Rajoy, won an absolute majority in Spain’s general election on November 20, 2011.

The PP won 186 of 350 seats with a little more than 10.8 million votes. The Socialist Party (the PSOE), which has been in power since 2004, received a little less than 7 million votes, losing 59 of its 169 seats from 2008. The PSOE, under the leadership of Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, was thus left with a dismal 110 seats – this number is the lowest ever obtained by the Socialist party since democratic elections started in Spain in 1977. Other significant gains were made by Izquierda Unida (or, the United Left, of which the Communist Party of Spain is the main partner), moving from 2 seats in 2008 to 11 seats this time around. Similarly, the Catalan Regionalist Party CiU gained 6 seats from the previous election and now has 16. And Rosa Diez’s Unión, Pregreso y Democracia (UPyD) gained 4 seats from the previous election.

For observers of Spanish politics, the PP’s win was expected for some time. Since the election was called in the summer by Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero, polls had indicated a victory for the PP.  The magnitude of the PP victory, however, was somewhat of a surprise: this is the highest seat total the party has won in any general election in democratic Spain, higher than even that won by José María Aznar in 2000 (183 seats) when the PP won its first majority government.

Perhaps even more surprising was the magnitude of the Socialist debacle. In fact, in looking at comparative election data, one may argue that it was not so much that the PP won, but that the PSOE lost.  For example, let’s consider the difference of votes obtained in the 2008 and the 2011 elections. If one calculates the differences in votes for the PP (which gained 552,683 more votes in 2011 when compared to 2008 election), IU (+710, 864), CiU (+234,838), and UPyD (+834,163) and then sums them, one sees that it is still less than the 4,315,455 votes lost by the Socialists this time around. From this perspective, it is not that the PP made great strides, but, rather, it is the PSOE that simply blew it.

The idea that the PSOE blew it was perhaps inevitable with the financial and economic crisis that has had a crippling impact on Spain over the last year in particular, meaning that many had lost faith in the party under Zapatero’s leadership – under the Socialists, unemployment peaked over 21.5%; economic growth slowed; debt spiralled; and after Ireland, Greece and Italy, the country has increasingly become under pressure from the markets. Of course, the PP promises to change this and one may argue that historical necessity for change certainly motivated many voters.

It is also interesting to note that Spain represents the 3rd southern European state (first Greece, and then Italy) over the last two weeks that has changed government, albeit this time by the voters. With a full mandate to pursue this change, the PP finds itself in a strong position to unilaterally pursue economic reforms. Yet, only time will tell if international markets and even the voters are happy and confident with the PP’s plans – plans that many critics say are still not very clear.