The Spanish elections – a report from Reti España

Reti España, Interel's Public Affairs Partner in Spain, gives us an insight into the upcoming elections in Spain after the recent announcement that the elections are set to be held on 26th June 2016.

King Felipe VI has signed the Decree of Dissolution of Parliament and Call for Elections, to be held on Sunday June 26, following the short-lived legislature (XI) due to the lack of agreement for the investiture of a President of the Government. This opens a new political strategy among the country’s main political parties, who are under pressure to achieve a quick and reliable agreement to enable Spain’s governance.

Anger, criticism and pressure from citizens, as voters, will undoubtedly be present in the attitudes and negotiations of all the parties running in the second election in four months.

Responsibility of achieving a national agreement

Most of the parties rely on an electorate that could make them maintain, and even improve, their results from the elections held in December 20, which would put them in a similar situation, albeit with even greater responsibility and pressure, if anything, from which there would be no way out without an agreement to form a government

Modified political map with greater frustration?

The risk comes from the fatigue and weariness of a good chunk of the same electorate that could take shelter in abstention and give way to possible scares in the allocation of seats after the D’Hont method is applied. This possibility, together with the punishment to those parties that voters identify as the cause for preventing a government from having been formed could ultimately lead to a modified political map, including more frustration.

Quick government although without absolute majority

Safe for any major surprises, only two parties –PP and PSOE- would still be capable of obtaining an absolute majority to invest the President of the Government. Or, on the other hand, to veto it, although this would have to be duly justified after the fiasco of December 20.

The process is expected to be fast for the new legislature, which will be inaugurated on July 19 with the constitutive sitting of Congress and Senate. Results from the ballot on June 26 will put pressure on the different political leaders to negotiate swiftly, from the very night of the election. The aim is to get sufficient support to get as close as possible to the absolute majority of 176 seats to form a center-right Government or a left one which, almost certainly, will continue dividing the Spanish parliamentary spectrum.

After the preceding non-governability situation, it’s possible for the investiture of the new president to be scheduled for the month of August.

Abstention is also a key element

Experts and even political partial are certain that there will be an increase in abstention, which would benefit majority parties and punish those who the voters believe are guilty of having cut short the attempt to form a government. A lower turnout, below 70% -4 points less than in Dec. 20- will favor parties with loyal voters, although the volatility margin may lead to surprises.

The main question to be answered is if, despite running as candidates for both majority parties, Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez will remain as party leaders after June 26. If their respective parties fail to form a Government with the necessary alliances, it would place one or the other in the opposition and, in the medium term, he would have to step down from the leadership. Internal criticism in both parties will pressure the candidate who losses electoral support.

In Podemos, despite the frenzy at their bases and the strategy of overtaking the Socialist Party after its sure coalition with Izquierda Unida, the sum of synergies would not translate in a proportional parliamentary arithmetic as a consequence of the D’Hont method, which would continue to penalize the third and fourth most voted parties. In any case, adding the votes from IU would offset an important part of the electorate that has defected, disappointed with Podemos’ attitude.

Ciudadanos and IU are the parties with improved number of votes since December 20, according to the polls. Their respective roles in the frustrated negotiations to form a government could have a positive effect on their results.

Cracks within the People’s Party

The corruption scandals and the internal disagreements within the PP have exposed the existence of two clearly differentiated groups that co-habit in a far from peaceful way, both in the Government and in the PP. The division does not distinguish sectors and is not characterized by ideological or political differences but, rather, by personal incompatibilities.

The divergence between the vice-president, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Margallo is evident and well known, as is the lack of camaraderie between the Minister of Finance and the Economy Minister. This is coupled with the lack of chemistry between the two right hands of the acting president, in the Government as well as in the PP: the vice-president, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, and the general secretary, María Dolores de Cospedal.

Rajoy’s equidistance confuses his detractors and his supporters; however, Mariano Rajoy stays true to his own political project, which, as it stands today, would fall into one of two possible scenarios:

That, after the elections on June 26, the People’s Party keeps leading Spain’s Government, or that Rajoy goes back to the opposition, in which case he should probably take a step back from the PP leadership and enable his replacement.

This second possibility is not contemplated by Rajoy’s more direct collaborators and, according to their own estimations, they would regain enough seats –an increase of between three to five MPs- to obtain a minority majority with its main ideological rival, Ciudadanos. The new parliamentary arithmetic would draw a governability agreement between both center-right parties close to 170 seats, sufficient to add parties like Basque PNV or Coalición Canaria.

The difference between both scenarios is that, if they don’t make it to the Government, the PP would hold its own Congress after the summer to address, among other things, the replacement of the party’s leadership. If this were the case, the party’s model would have to face the limitation of terms, incompatibility with other posts and even the election of public appointments, with a procedure similar to the primaries in order to incorporate more than one candidate to the presidency.

One of Mariano Rajoy’s possible substitutes would be the current president of the Galician Government, Alberto Núñez Feijoo, whose loyalty, experience and insight is much appreciated by many sectors of the People’s Party.

Pedro Sánchez’s future

Despite his initiative to enable the formation of a government, the PSOE’s leader is aware of the risks of a new electoral defeat. The loss of seats coupled with the internal criticism and the “defection” of personalities such as the former minister Carme Chacón place Pedro Sánchez at a difficult crossroads to overcome if he remains in the opposition.

Once the “signing” of Ángel Gabilondo as an electoral reinforcement has been ruled out, the PSOE could pay dearly for the fragmentation of the parliamentary left and its insurmountable (at least for now) incompatibility with Podemos. If he does not achieve a majority to govern, his continuity as the party’s general secretary would be severely in danger.

Podemos at a crossroads

Territorial convergences reached with Podemos to obtain their own parliamentary group in Congress have also revived discussion within the party led by Pablo Iglesias. This is coupled with internal discrepancies (palpable through the disagreements between the leader and its number 2, Íñigo Errejón), which could undermine their national support.

The truth is that Iglesias’ regional partners are trying to put a stop to an organization criticized for its obstructionism, placing it in danger of losing a substantial number of seats. Only a sure joint platform with Izquierda Unida would offset the results for the third most voted party.

Albert Rivera’s rebound

Ciudadanos is not expecting to change its program or its lists. Neither will it hold primaries due to lack of time: the candidates will be the same as in the last election on December 20. Albert Rivera will also change its conciliatory attitude with rivals and will sharpen its criticism, in particular against Pablo Iglesias.

Having terminated his agreement with the PSOE, Rivera could reconsider extending his hand to the People’s Party, knowing initial polls indicate the sum of PP and C’s seats as being the closest to an absolute majority. The parliamentary arithmetic and the need to agree on a government would force the leader of Ciudadanos to review his red lines and his compelling veto towards Mariano Rajoy.

Albert Rivera is still the most valued leader while his party could see a rebound –according to some polls – of up to 10 seats.

Parties reevaluate cost and duration of the campaign

The follow-up election has opened a debate on the cost and format of campaigns. The cost for Dec. 20, excluding each party’s individual campaign, amounted to 130 million euros. Cutting costs with a joint mailing of ballot papers or shortening the campaign–as proposed by the leader of Ciudadanos- seems difficult due to the refusal of other parties.

The loss of support in the last election- five million less between the PSOE and the PP- has meant a considerable loss of income for the two major parties. Changing the campaign format would imply modifying the electoral law, which would be impossible to do before June.

The PP spent 12 million euros in the last campaign; the PSOE nine million; Podemos, 3.6 million together with their territorial allies in Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia. Ciudadanos invested four million, while IU spent 2.5 million.

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Lauren Roden

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