The ultimate guide to Spain’s general election 2015
On Sunday 20th December 2015, Spanish nationals will be deciding which political parties should govern Spain for the next four years. Those without Spanish nationality are unable to vote in Spain’s general elections. However, the decision made on this day will have a significant impact on their experience of Spain.
Spain has a complicated network of local, provincial, regional and national government. This can make it difficult for those who are not native here (and sometimes those who are!) to fully comprehend the laws and the politics.
The country is divided into towns such as Torrevieja, provinces such as Alicante and autonomous communities such as Valencia. Each has its own government which can sometimes find itself at odds with others in the chain. So, for example:
- Municipality: Torrevieja
- Province: Alicante
- Autonomous community: Valencia
Non-Spanish residents of Spain who are citizens of the European Union or whom Spain has a reciprocity agreement with are able to vote in the municipal or local elections. They can also vote in the European elections. However, they cannot vote for the regional or national government. The National Statistics Institute (INE) suggests that this means that more than four million people do not have a vote.
The election in May this year of municipal/ local elections led to many changes in town councils. The traditional parties of the PSOE and PP found themselves decimated as many people chose to vote for the new, emerging parties representing Podemos and Ciudadanos. The result was often coalitions governing in the town halls. A transfer of power that is not proving to be easy and has caused much disruption to local services in some cases.
Perhaps what Spain is seeing is the same as has happened in some other European countries. There has been a rise in dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties who do not seem to be addressing the concerns of the public. This has provided opportunity for other groups, using social media, to rise quickly and collect support.
Now, with a general election close at hand this Ultimate Guide provides an overview of the main political parties in the running and summarises some of the manifesto pledges.
The Partido Popular (PP)
This is currently the party governing Spain on a national basis. Their Prime Minister is Mariano Rajoy and they have an overall majority in Spanish Parliament. This means that most of the laws that they have wanted to establish during the last four years of power have been passed.
The PP is a centre right political party although there are those who would argue that they are more on the right than at the centre. Until the appearance of Ciudadanos, there have been no other right wing contenders for their position. The far right has not had a strong a voice in Spain as it has in some other European countries.
The PP manifesto
Cristobal Montoro, Finance Minister in Spain, has unveiled the PP’s budget plans for 2016, if, of course, they find themselves back in power. So what does the current ruling party offer the rich and poor of Spain in the coming year?
Their plans currently include to:
- reduce unemployment by 3,500
- increase the budget for research and design by 2.2%
- increases the culture budget of 7.2% with a major increase going to the Spanish film industry
- increase salaries by 1% for the civil servants
- limit pension increases to .25%
- provide more money to families who need it with an overall increase in social spending of 3.8%
Their manifesto principles include to:
- advance employment
- grow Spain in a way that’s sustainable and competitive
- unite Spain and the rights of Spaniards
- strengthen the pillars of welfare
- complete improvements to education
- continue to modernise administration
- regenerate public life and address corruption
They say they will do this by:
- Putting people first:
- support the family as at the centre of society
- improve the health service
- value the experience of our elders by guaranteeing pensions
- combat social exclusion
- make a commitment to the disabled
- promote full equality
- The Spain that we want:
- combat corruption
- a united Spain and constitution
- the principles of democracy and an end to ETA
- more effective management
- ensure safety
- combat the threat of jihadist terrorism
- Our role in Europe and the world:
- stronger in Europe
- a modern Spain with impact in the global world
- defence and security
- new solutions for new challenges
They have made the promise to further reduce income tax next year if they win the next general election and the budget allows. This follows on from a reduction already brought forward this year by six months. These include reductions in income tax for people earning less than €12,450 a year from 24.75% in 2014 to 20% in 2015 and 19% in 2016.
For those earning €60,000 or more a year the top rate tax will be cut from 52% in 2014 to 47% in 2015 and 45% in 2016.
Ciudadanos has risen in a very similar manner to Podemos, using social media and the concerns that the public have about transparency and corruption. Corruption is a major issue for the Spanish people who have seen one after another town hall smeared with allegations and court cases.
The party is led by Albert Rivera and spreads a message of non-partisan democratic regeneration. They are a centre right political organisation and, as such, are direct rivals to the PP. Ciudadanos collected quite a lot of support during the local town council elections and has traditionally kept a distance between forming coalitions with other, smaller parties. A stand that has frustrated the PP who would have benefitted from their support in some councils.
In recent polls, Ciudadanos appear to be gaining ground and some have suggested that rather than a four horse race that includes Podemos, we could be looking at three political parties tussling for the majority of votes.
In overall policy, Ciudadanos are closer to the PP than the PSOE and any allegiance between the two could be strained. However, Ciudadanos’ strong stand against corruption might also make allegiance with the PP difficult given the PP’s unfortunate association with a number of corruption cases across the country.
The Ciudadanos manifesto
The Ciudadanos manifesto is divided into seventeen different sections.
- New section on social rights in the constitution
- Politics without privileges
- Removal of politics from the justice system
- Commitment to Europe
- More efficient administration
- A new electoral law
Economy and employment
- Fiscal reform for the middle classes
- Campaign against fraud
- Boost for the self employed
- Guaranteed annual wage supplement
- Free education – removing the need to pay for books
- More independence for institutions
- A multilingual model in public schools – children being taught in both English and Spanish
- University reform
- Teacher training development
- Comparison of schools across the country
- Strengthening of the national health system – including guaranteeing a free and high quality universal service
- Health service to be financed only by taxes removing the co-pago arrangement
- Enabling a dignified death
- Regulating surrogacy
- Right to be housed
- Pensions – a more transparent system where the amount of entitlement is clear
- Common European immigration policy
- Protection for whistleblowers
- Parties held accountable for corruption
- Improved functioning of the local political parties
Culture and citizenship
- Strengthen the protection of intellectual property
- Protection of Spain’s heritage
- Strengthening of the Cervantes Institutes
- Promotion of sport to improve health
- Support for top performing athletes
- Increase protection for animals
- New law for climate change
- New secretary for the environment and energy
- New defence act
- New cyber security strategy
- Strengthening the authority of the chief of defence staff
- Support for families of members of the armed forces
The Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE)
The PSOE is the Spanish socialist party. Pedro Sánchez is currently the leader of the PSOE and they governed previously to the PP with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as their prime minister. Previous to the rise of Podemos and Ciudadanos it has been the PP and PSOE that have held centre stage in Spanish politics since Franco died.
Although the PSOE did relatively poorly at the local elections, they seem to be making a come back now in the polls prior to the general election as a more established alternative to the PP party.
The PSOE are currently pledging to:
- Require that all young people stay in education up to the age of 18
- Withdraw the Lomce (current education law) and draw up a new education policy in consultation
Culture and sport
- Lower IVA on activities such as cinema, theatre, music and reduce it on books, newspapers and online magazines
Measures against corruption
- Facilitate electronic voting
- Campaign against corruption
- Prohibit gifts for any political leader
- Prohibit pardons for offences linked to alleged corruption and strengthen information to Parliament
- Prohibit the appointment and force the resignation of officials, councillors and MPS who are currently under trial for a crime against the public administration
- Withdraw the citizen security law (including the ‘gagging’ law) and reinstate freedom of speech
Economy and employment
- Raise the minimum wage to €1,000 in two stages
- Provide more help for the unemployed for those with family responsibilities, who are older than 45 years old, women who are victims of domestic violence and the disabled
- Repeal the labour reform’s main aspects
- Tax reform that increases the tax burden for large companies and not raise taxes for the middle and lower paid
- Facilitate the negotiation of debts and payment in kind
- Prioritise the improvement and maintenance of existing infrastructure above that of new works
- Establish a non contributory minimum income for families in vulnerable situations and at risk of social exclusion
Domestic violence and welfare
- Take measures against the provision and purchase of prostitution
- Reform of the abortion law for 16 and 17 years olds so they can decide without parental consent if they want to terminate their pregnancies
- Guarantee the purchasing power of pensions
- Return health care as a right free to all
- Plan a national strategy for childhood and adolescence
- Revise the co-payment scheme for prescriptions and put into motion measures for ensuring a dignified death and palliative care
- Gradually increase the amount of paternity leave available
- Enable the exhumation of people who were killed during the civil war
- Redraw the counter terrorism strategy and increase the number of those who are dedicated to the fight against jihadist violence
Podemos rose at great speed just before the European elections and took everyone by surprise by taking five seats. Their charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias, was already well-known for his TV appearance and much of their rise has been put down to their use of social media.
During the local elections they supported individual candidates but did not stand as councillors in their own right. They are considered to be a left-wing party although they do not generally describe themselves in this way. They pride themselves on taking grass root action around particular local campaigns.
Some of their most radical proposals have been amended since they originally began to build their manifesto. The party has brought interest to politics amongst some younger people who were perhaps becoming less interested in the two party race.
- Create a commission to investigate fiscal fraud in public institutions
- Reduce the minimum exemption from wealth tax.
- Incremental increase in income tax and inheritance and donations tax
- Reversal of privatisation of health centres and other services and recovery of outsourced services
- Ensure that professionals are providing care to the elderly and sick.
Help for families
- Simplify the legal proceedings for the restructuring and cancelling of debts
- Include the right to settle outstanding mortgage payments by returning the keys to the house.
- Public education to be prioritised and protected against further spending on semi-private education.
- Universal public education from 0 to 3 and books to be provided free
- Building once again the capacity of research departments to encourage the return and retention of talented young people.
Reduction in senior positions
- Reduction in the high number of senior officials in the autonomous communities.
- Money saved to be used to rehire workers in health and education.
- Regulation in relation to combining public office with private activities
- Boost investment in research and design and bridge the digital divide, particularly in rural areas.
- Develop public banks and promote the digital and collaborative economy
Energy efficiency plans to create employment and boost other economic models
- Energy efficiency in homes and buildings focusing on thermal insulation
- Prioritising actions on the insulation of buildings
- Helping the recruitment of the unemployed to improve the environment
Policies towards foreigners includes that Podemos would like immigrants to have a vote in regional elections and referendums to increase their ‘political participation’. They have also announced that they would like to change Spanish law to allow foreigners to create their own political parties.
Election fever is high and Spain recently held its first online debate including the leaders of Ciudadanos, Podemos and the PSOE. Rajoy declined to take part and instead opted for an individual interview on a TV channel. Rajoy appears not to have a fondness for taking part in open debates and has tended to prefer one-to-one interviews in more selective venues.
Much rests upon this election. So far, Spain has stuck more or less to an austerity programme. The PP have announced that this is working and they will continue to take this approach if they are re-elected. The other issue that the winning party will need to address as a matter of urgency on election is Catalonia and threatened independence from Spain. But it’s not just on the domestic front that this election matters. Rajoy announced that Spain would not make a decision about further military action against Syria until after the general election.
Anything is possible at this point. However, it does look as though the population are steering towards a centre position for their voting and the issue will be which way they will lean when it comes to the day.
Throughout these manifestos there are, of course, the same themes. Everyone pledges to improve the health service, education, reduce unemployment and improve welfare arrangements. What is different is the methods they propose to do this. This article does not explain in detail the finer points of each party’s plan. In many cases the parties will not know it themselves.
Behind the rhetoric and the proposals we can speculate as to how exactly each of these parties intends to raise the money and manage the introduction of these proposals in practice. Making promises at this stage is an easy task. Putting them into operation, far less so.
This is a possible turning point in Spanish history. Forty years on from the death of Franco, the country is facing some tough decisions both internationally and nationally. Those people who do have the right to vote have great responsibility in doing the best they can to choose the right party to take Spain through this difficult period.