Briefing Paper

Briefing Paper 186 (2015)   

The subtle Spanish revolution:
New parties change the game, but does Catalonia still want to play?

Published 23.11.2015

Teemu Sinkkonen
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

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Spanish politics is in flux. In addition to the two historically dominant players, the socialist party (PSOE) and the currently governing conservative party (PP), there are two new players in the field that are changing the whole game: Ciudadanos ("Citizens”), a centrist party, and the left-wing Podemos ("We Can”).

No party is likely to win an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections on 20 December, which means that either Ciudadanos or Podemos will play some kind of role in the next government’s policymaking. This also means that there is a need to find a way to make compromises and coalition politics, a new phenomenon in Spanish politics.

An optimistic scenario is that the new parties will force the old, closed and elitist parties into a more democratic and transparent way of conducting politics. However, no major reforms regarding the political system or constitution are to be expected in the short run.

A pessimistic scenario is that there are more political players in the field who neither know nor care what the other players are aiming for. This may lead to political paralysis, and a new series of elections both at the regional and national level, if the parties are unable to reach consensus on the formations of the government.

The Catalonian independence project suffered a significant setback in the elections for the Catalonian parliament on 27 September. The pro-independence parties were not able to secure a majority of the votes, but due to the electoral system, they did win a narrow majority of the seats in the Catalonian parliament. This means that the independence project is being pushed forward, but it might collapse at any time due to the fragile ground that it is built on. In any case, the Catalonian situation is dominating the electoral debates, and the future government of Spain faces a difficult challenge in keeping the country together.