The End of the Two-Party System in Spain 🇪🇸

Beatriz Lasheras Mas
Latest posts by Beatriz Lasheras Mas (see all)

by Beatriz Lasheras Mas

Former Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy (L) with the current Prime Minister and Secretary General of the PSOE, Pedro Sánchez (R). Credits: El País

Four national elections in less than four years.

The end of bipartisanship in Spain has revealed the inability of old and new parties to form a covenant government.

After Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), two main parties, Partido Popular (PP) – right wing- and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) –left wing, have been switching the power following the British model (Conservative Party/Labour Party).

However, the global economic crisis of 2008, that had hit Spain especially hard, has changed the Spanish political system. New political parties emerged and right and left wings have been fragmented.

Three new parties have taken centre stage in the political field with a significant number of votes: Ciudadanos (center-right), Unidas Podemos (left) and Vox (extreme right). Also, for the first time in the history of Spanish democracy, there was a motion of censure against the former premier Mariano Rajoy.

With these new factors and actors, the previous governance model has been damaged. Ahead of a fractured parliament in which no party is able to govern by itself, the solution seems to be to reach agreements between the political forces, something that has already been working for years in the local parliaments, but which is finding more difficulties at national level.

In the Spanish political system, in order to invest a prime minister, the king calls a candidate to try to form a government (usually the most voted one). This candidate should find enough support and go into an investiture. In the first round, it is necessary to count with the majority (176 deputies out of 350) and in the second round to have more ‘yes’ than ‘no’. If the candidate called by the king is not able to get enough supports, the king can call another candidate or dissolve the parliament and convocated new elections.

Parliamentary configuration after the November 2019 vote. Credits: BBC News

In 2015, Spain experienced general elections. PP won with 123 deputes but it was not able to form a stable government and in 2016 the country was called to vote again. This time, the main right-wing party managed to form a government. However, two years later a huge scandal of corruption came out and a motion of censure, under the leadership of Pedro Sánchez, removed Mariano Rajoy and gave the power to the opposition leadership.

The new prime minister was not able to present a stable government, his party being in minority, and hence was forced to call for elections again in 2019. The vote has been held in April and PSOE won with 123 deputes. After months of negotiations, the main leftist party was not able to create a coalition government that could reach the support of the majority. In this last phase, Spain was once again called to elections. The last elections have taken place this November.

PSOE won again, but it lost two seats and the right-wing forces resulted to have strengthened their position. After the results, fearful of the rising influence of their opposition, PSOE and Unidas Podemos reached an agreement to govern together within 24 hours. For the first time in the history of Spanish democracy, a coalition government is being created. Now, we should wait and see if these two parties are able to get enough supports to materialize this alliance. It could be the beginning of a relevant change in the Spanish political system.

  • What do you think about coalition governments?
  • Do you think the quantity of parties is linked with the quality of democracy?

Suggested Readings:

“Socialists win repeat Spanish election, Vox becomes third-biggest force in Congress” by Melissa Kitson

“Spain Profile – Timeline” by BBC News World

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