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27 October 2015

The next Spanish Parliament will be a pact between the 'old politics' and 'new politics'

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The Spanish parliament was dissolved earlier this week and PM Mariano Rajoy announced that the General Election will take place on 20th December. Although the electoral campaign will not kick off until the 4th December, many opinion surveys are being published and show a very fragmented outcome.

By Paula Martín Camargo, Editor

Spain’s main political parties

PP (People’s Party): 44,62 % current seats / leader: Mariano Rajoy / Ideology: centre-right, right inspired by Christian humanism. It was founded in 1989 from Alianza Popular (a party founded in 1977 by former Information and Tourism minister Manuel Fraga which included the Liberal Party and Christian democrats).

PSOE (Spanish Labour Socialist Party): 28,73% current seats / leader: Pedro Sánchez /Ideology: centre-left. It was founded in 1879 by Pablo Iglesias defining itself as a socialist-Marxist party for the first 100 years. In 1979, the PSOE accepted capitalism and renounced Marxism.

Izquierda Plural (Plural Left):6,92% current seats / coalition of leftist parties led by Izquierda Unida (leader Cayo Lara). IU was founded in 1986 after the protest against Spain’s entering NATO, and includes the Communist Party and the Republican Party.

PNV (Basque Nationalist Party):5,9% current seats / leader: Íñigo Urkullu / Ideology: conservative, Christian democrat and nationalist. The PNV has governed in the Basque country continuously from 1980. It was founded in 1895 by Sabino Arana, who was inspired by romantic nationalism and claimed the ‘right to choose’ and independence from Spain.

UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy): 4,69% current seats / leader: Rosa Díez/ Ideology: Centre. It was founded in 2007 in the Basque country to represent the alternative to the historical two-party predominance and to fight against ETA’s terrorism. It included former relevant socialists such as its leader Rosa Díez, and intellectuals from the left and the right.

CiU (Convergence and Union): 4,17% current seats / It was a federation of two Catalan parties founded in 1978 and dissolved in 2015: Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (Artur Mas) of liberal-centrist ideology, and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida), Christian democrats.

C’s – Ciudadanos (Citizens): 0% current seats / leader: Albert Rivera/ Ideology: Centre. It was founded in 2006 in Barcelona by a group of leftist intellectuals opposed to Catalan nationalism and expanded to the rest of the country in the regional elections of 2014.

Podemos (We can): 0% current seats / leader: Pablo Iglesias/ Ideology: Left.  It was founded in January 2014 by Pablo Iglesias, and won 7,89% of the votes in the European Parliament elections of May that year. It gathered the forces of the radical leftist disillusioned with corruption, social inequality and unemployment who started the 15-M massive protests of 2011 and were called Indignados.

The Spanish voting system

Every four years, Spain renews its Parliament through a party-list proportional representation that follows the D’Hont rule (Congress) and a plurality system (Senate). Each province elects two deputies and four senators, the autonomous communities elect another senator, and the rest of the deputies (a total of 350) and senators (208 in total) dependent on the population of the province. (See Appendix)


The last plenary of Rajoy’s PP government term in office took place last week with the usual bitter exchange of reproaches between him and the leaders of the opposition – who accused him of lying repeatedly and of corruption within the governing People’s Party. However, recent polls continue to suggest that the two-party system may still dominate Spanish political life, though the new parties (Ciudadanos and Podemos) will be the 'key to the Moncloa' (the official residence of the Prime Minister). 

A pact may be indispensable to form a new government between the old politics - ‘the caste’ (as Podemos’ Iglesias likes to call the biggest Spanish political parties) and the `new politics' (as the new political parties like to call themselves).

But pacts aren’t to the taste of PM Rajoy, who claimed during the plenary – once again - that the list with the most votes should be the one to prevail and said that he “would only govern if the PP wins”. However, this is unlikely to happen: the most recent surveys show a very fragmented distribution of seats and the most supported pact - according to a poll by Invymark for LaSexta in which voters where asked what coalition they would prefer - would be the one formed by PP and Ciudadanos (with the support of 29,4% of the voters). An alliance between PSOE and Podemos government would have 26,2% of popular support; a PSOE & Ciudadanos government would only be approved by 17,2% of the Spanish population. 

Latest opinion polls

1. According to the outcome of Sigma-dos survey for Mediaset on the estimated votes, PM Rajoy’s PP would win again the General Election on 20th December with 27,4% of the votes but  far away from an absolute majority. PSOE, led by Pedro Sánchez, would be second. Since the last poll by Sigmados in July, both these parties have lost 1,4 and 0,5 percentage points, respectively; these votes would go for Ciudadanos and Podemos, which would win 18,1 and 16,3% of the votes respectively.


Source: Sigma-dos for Mediaset

2. TV station La Sexta ‘barometer’ by Invymark (see graphic below) shows that the PP would win again with 28,6% of the votes, and a pact between PM Rajoy’s party and  Ciudadanos would be supported by 29,4% of the population. The independent survey suggests a big fall in support for Podemos, losing almost 3 points since the beginning of October.


Source: Barometer by Invymark for LaSexta TV station

3. J&A poll for affirms that Ciudadanos has shot up in the latest polls so a pact with it would be essential for the PP to reach the Moncloa again, given that Rajoy’s party would suffer a major electoral collapse. On current form, the PP would only be able to govern if it forms a coalition with Albert Rivera’s Cidadanos.

Source: J&A poll for Sondeo JyA Diario Público.png

4. Another poll by the independent statistics institute Metroscopia for El País indicates a tighter gap between PP and PSOE, but both polls agree on signalling the ‘newly arrived’ Ciudadanos and Podemos as necessary allies on the way to the Spanish ‘White Hall’ (the Moncloa, the official residence of the Prime Minister).

However, the main conclusion to be drwan from the chart below is the substantial collapse of Podemos since the summer: the leftist party gained nearly 8% of the seats in the election to the European Parliament only three months after being born in March 2014, and reached the 25% estimated votes shortly afterwards - topping the Spanish opinion polls. But support has crumbled in favor of Ciudadanos (C's), with an astonishing rise from 8% of the estimated votes in 2014 (the year that it expanded from Catalonia to the rest of the country) to the current 21,5% estimated votes. This surge has probably made it the 'key' to any future government. Albert Rivera's party may thus be indispensable for Rajoy to obtain a second mandate, and the drain of estimated votes from Rajoy's PP to Ciudadanos confirms that this pact would be much appreciated by the right wing of the population.

Source: Metroscopia for El País


Background: The ‘newly arrived’ parties

As shown in this chart, Pablo Iglesias’ Podemos and Albert Rivera’s Ciudadanos have gained outstanding popularity in less than two years, attracting ‘disappointed’ voters from the left and the right, and posing a serious problem for the bipartisan political system that has dominated the Spanish politics since the Transition from Franco's dictatorship in the early ‘80s. 

Ciudadanos has seen the biggest growth since its expansion on 2014 from Catalonia to the rest of Spain – it started as a group  named Ciutadans de Catalunya opposed to Catalan nationalism. It has gained at least 7 points in the polls since the summer and now enjoys a comfortable third position with around an estimated 20% of the votes. Although founded by leftist intellectuals, Ciudadanos prefers to refer to itself as a centre party focused on freedom as its main ideological principle. It has been compared ideologically to the British Liberal Democrat party.

Podemos started from scratch and soon captivated the far-left voters, especially those of Izquierda Unida’s communists and the socialists that had seen how former PSOE's PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government implemented many harsh austerity measures at the end of its mandate.   While Podemos has gained every vote the PSOE has lost since the summer, its leader Iglesias’ wariness of a political career and the rise of Ciudadanos' Rivera has made it slip backwards a few steps - to the fourth position, according to the latest opinion polls.

Appendix: Spanish electoral system - General Election

Spanish parliament – Cortes Generales - is formed by the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) and the Senate (Senado), each one with 350 and 208 seats respectively.

The Congress represents the 52 provinces:  each of them elects at least 2 deputies (except Ceuta and Melilla which elect only one) and the remaining 248 depend on the registered population. The election system is proportional, through the D’Hont method with closed lists of candidates, a rule that provides an 'extra push' to the most voted parties and coalitions guaranteeing that the parties' seat allocations are whole numbers that sum to the correct total while preserving proportionality as far as posible. This method tries to avoid the fragmentation resulting from exact proportionality and thus facilitates a majority. It has been used for electing posts within the European Parliament, and explains the difference between the percentages shown in the polls and the actual seats achieved by the parties.

The 208 senators are elected as follows: each province elects directly 4 senators and each autonomous community designates one senator and another one for each million inhabitants of its territory.

The distribution of seats – escaños - in the Spanish Congress after 2011’s General Elections is: The PP currently has 185 seats (it has lost a seat since the 2011 election) and 44,62%; PSOE 110 (28,73%), CiU 16 (4,17%); IU-LV 11 (6,92%); UPyD 4 (4,69%); the Vasque Parlamentarian Group EAJ-PNV has 5 (1,33%); while the rest of the groups (Mix Parlamentarian Group: AMAIUR, ERC, BNG and others) has 18 seats. (For full details see chart below)

Senate                                                   Congress         


Source: and


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