New politics in Spain: No more two-party dominance, it is time to negotiate

New politics in Spain: No more two-party dominance, it is time to negotiate

Spanish citizens went to the ballot box on Dec. 20 to elect their prospective government for the next four years. The participation rate was 73.20 percent, beating the level in 2011 of 68.94 percent. The already governing center-right Popular Party (PP) won the elections with 28.71 percent of the votes and 123 seats out of 350, while losing the absolute majority. Following a lingering period of economic hardship, austerity measures and record-level unemployment, remarkably, the PP still ended up being the most voted for party.

Nevertheless, this is the worst result achieved by any winning party in the history of democratic Spain. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy volunteered for the job again in his post-electoral speech, claiming that he would form a “stable government” for the entire country, representing all citizens.

Pre-electoral polls could not agree on the second party for a long time. The race between the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the emerging forces of Spain, Podemos (We Can) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), was very challenging until the very last minute. Ultimately, the PSOE got 22.01 percent of the votes and 90 seats, followed by Podemos as the third party. Running the elections as a coalition of different leftist groups in some autonomous communities, Podemos got 20.66 percent of the popular votes and 69 seats - even winning more votes than pro-independence forces in Catalonia. Ciudadanos ended up worse than expected, with a result of 13.93 percent of the votes and 40 seats, as for the first time they competed in national elections as a political party born in Catalonia. One has to note the Spanish electoral system favors bigger parties, which ends up giving more seats to them.

Back to basics: How to form a government? 

One thing is clear: It is time to look for some alliances in Spanish politics. This will be the most fragmented parliament ever. To be able to form a government, 176 seats are needed. According to Article 99 of the Spanish constitution of 1978, King of Spain Felipe IV will meet with the leaders of each party with representation and then propose a candidate as the president of congress. It is very possible that the first candidate will be the leader of the party which garnered the most votes. If the majority is not qualified after two consecutive votes - one absolute majority and another simple majority - there will be a new candidate.

This process will start on Jan. 13, 2016, when parliament is formed and may take at most two months. If the new government is not formed within that time frame, parliament will be dissolved and the country will go for snap elections. 

A grand coalition in Spain is very unlikely, but still on the board. The possible right wing coalition of PP-Ciudadanos will not qualify for a government. In addition, the leader of Ciudadanos claimed his party was bound for a change in the country and would not sign up for any government with the PP or the PSOE. The left-wing coalition of the PSOE, Podemos and the United Left (IU) may also witness the same fate. In brief, small nationalist parties will be the major players in forming the government. In the meantime, the PP will dominate the senate, which means that important reforms will require a consensus anyway. 

Pleasingly, Spain did not fall for the Eurosceptic extreme right, like France and many other European countries. Emerging parties, especially Podemos - which is often called populist and counted together with Greece’s Syriza - finished the electoral night with an outstanding success. The party was established right before the European Parliament elections of 2014 and achieved impressive results in 1.5 years.

Spanish democracy is going through the biggest challenge of its history. It is time to negotiate, foster dialogue and find a way to govern the country. No matter the election results, it is evident that Spain continues to tackle familiar difficulties: Unemployment, corruption and fraud and the economy according to the latest research among its citizens, all of which require a stable government to solve. 

*İlke TOYGÜR is Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University.