Spain’s new coalition

This student guest post is on Spain, a country that currently has something fairly rare in parliamentary democracies: a single-party government.

Change is not a new thing to the Spanish political system. In the past century Spain has fought a civil war over its system of government, been controlled by the military dictator Franco and even after the transition to democracy in 1975 there have been attempted coup d’etats, most famously in February 1981. Now once again, this time under economic strain, Spain is being forced by lenders and other EU member countries to revise its budget and the reexamine the way Spain’s government chooses to allocate funds. These changes may not have a lot of direct effect upon the legislative body in terms of size but for the members themselves they run the risk of a loss of faith in their office.

In our modern political economy we are coming to the end of a debt cycle and repayment is imminent; balancing the budget and reducing the public debt has become a focus of elections and international affairs. The debt issue and also the downtown in the Spanish economy has led to periods of large amounts of unemployment and in Spain led to a change of ruling party and a significant loss for the former-ruling party the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (BBC: Spain). Spain’s last election was in 2011 and they chose to elect the SSWP’s major adversary the People’s Party. The previous election taking place in 2008 and gives us a good snap shot of this transition of power from the center-left Socialists to the Christian democratic People’s Party.

2008 was a year that we consider the start of the recent global recession and especially so in Spain with the realization of artificially high property prices, acceleration of unemployment and skepticism of foreign investors. In power at this time was the SSWP who under Prime Minister Zapatero had controlled Parliament since the elections in 2004. These economic woes since 2008 would come to burden the Zapatero led Cortes and by the 2011 election had taken an electoral loss from 42.6% and 164 seats and 43.9% and 169 seats in 2004 and 2008 respectively to a mere 28.7% and 110 seats in 2011 (Elections ’77-’04 & Elections ’08-’11). Due to the make up of the Cortes Generalment a percentage of over 50% isn’t needed to be consider the ruling party. The periphery parties have held around 15% of the seats in the Cortes and so that makes at least a 43% control of the seats that remain up for grabs between the PP and the SSWP to guarantee dominance in Parliament; but that minimum seat number can sometimes be less, sometimes more, depending on the popularity of the periphery parties. In theory, if elections had the right outcome a coalition government created between two parties would be necessary for control of the Cortes but in Spain’s history of democracy since Franco there has never been a cooperative coalition required by the ruling party.

The party that has taken power since 2011 is the People’s Party and their Prime Minister is Mariano Rajoy. He won by taking a stance of patient assessment on the condition of the economy and vowed to cut spending. He has followed through but in recent weeks has had his hand forced by pressures from Eurozone stewards Germany and to some degree France. Currently the People’s Party holds 186 seats in the Cortes earning 44.6% of the popular vote. The major growth in popularity has been attributed to Spain’s economic woes and Zapatero’s inability to deal with them. Until 2007 the Spanish debt level had been shrinking and interest rates, a warning sign of lender risk, had too. House prices rose 44% from 2004 to 2008 and have since fallen 17%. The wages of Spanish workers, to keep up with high mortgages and due to a large influx of foreign investment, had increased above and remain at an uncompetitive level. Meanwhile unemployment still continues to grow (BBC: What’s the Matter). If Rajoy fails to provide a fix soon enough or by the time he does fix it the economy has taken irreversible damage does he and the party risk Zapatero’s same fate? The way ahead will be tough and may need to require a wage cut by Spain as a whole, a very unpopular choice. The people of Spain have been persistently active upon demanding reform and solutions to their troubles but it remains to be seen if that will reflect upon the results of the next election as drastically as it did for the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party.


BBC: Spain Country Profile

BBC: What’s the Matter with Spain

King, Prime Minister, and Council of Ministers

Parties and Elections of Spain 1977- 2004

Parties and Elections of Spain, 2008 – 2011


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