In Spain the regional community, town hall and city mayoral elections were recently celebated right across the country. It would be true to say that the elections again prove that Spain must radically reform her regional electoral system, or fall into the dustbin of European history, for lack of attention to detail, if for nothing else.
In case you keep a watch on your local and national newspapers, but have failed to grasp the nub of what they have been saying since May 22, I shall try to sum up what happens in these Spanish regional elections, and how the constitutional laws regarding ‘Pacts’ affect them.
Take the hypothetical case of the Autonomous Community Inventida. This beautiful but fictitious region has a capital city with a gorgeous cathedral. The town of spires, bars and plazas fell to both sides during the Civil War, and suffered dreadful treatment. Traditionally, during the periods when Spain has been democratic, Inventida’s younger people have always voted for the Spanish Workers Socialist Party (SWSP) or they do not vote at all, stating that “the whole thing is a farce and it doesn’t really matter anyway, because all politicians are . . .” etc. etc. Older people, many of whom remember the Civil War, and have anyway lived in Spain since the death of Franco and endured thirty-three years of Spanish politics since the signing of the Constitution – prefer to vote conservatively. They choose the Popular Party (PP) because the initials are easier to remember. These two parties are the giants in Spain. The first (SWSP) is supposed to represent ‘the working man and woman’ and works (manicured) hand in (Vuitton glove) with the trade unions Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT).
The ‘conservatives’ are allegedly centre-right in opinion and action, claim determinedly that they put the country first (before party ideology): they are led by a man with a beard. Shall we say that 45% of the people in Inventida who have a vote voted for the PP. This in most European states would represent a pretty massive show of confidence in the PP and its leaders. Shall we say that 40% voted for the SWSP. First past the post therefore by 5%, was the PP. One would imagine that the region or community wwould be ruled for the next four years by a PP President, with his or her eighteen councillors, and that opposition in the local parliament will be energetically provided by the SWSP’s leader and his or her eleven councillors.
But this is NOT what happens here. Things are different. I will explain. Each community boasts a number of purely nationalist political parties, some with many backers, others with less. It also has the local version of the Communist Party. Let us call these much smaller parties H.O.W.L., B.U.R.P., T.E.A.R.S. and F.R.O.W.N.
During the election, these slightly weird parties won fifteen percent of the vote. Thus, though 85% of the voters went for the two main parties, neither can actually win and form a government without forming pacts with the infinitely smaller parties, enough to give them a majority.
In Spain therefore the community called I call Inventida voted massively for the PP, less massively for the SWSP, and a few votes were cast for Howlers, Burbers, Weepers and Frowners. It only needs the offer of a pact from a couple of these minority parties to the SWSP, adding their councillors to the SWSP’s list, and Inventida will after all have a SWSP Government, not the one 45% of the voters voted for. The small parties’ councillors will be rewarded with governmental posts which will enable them to enrich themselves modestly or spectacularly (according to their whim).
I concede that in some regions and town halls either of the big parties won the municipals with such a massive majority no pacts are needed, but this is not the case, for example, with (the real) Castilla la Mancha – a community that had been ruled by the socialists for a couple of decades or more, which they have just lost! Or not lost, because of the pacts system. It may turn out that the people of this geographically central region voted strongly conservative (de Cospedal) to get rid of the socialists under Barreda, but that Barreda will be able to make enough pacts with diminutive and feebly backed parties to keep him in power, unless of course de Cospedal grabs the all-essential pacts first. Do you understand the ‘system’ now?