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Session 14: Parties and electoral system

► Politics in Spain: Processes and



► Instructor:Andrew Davis
► e-mail:
Electoral System
►A country’s electoral system influences
its party political structure (party
system) in two ways.
 Effects the number of parties able to
obtain parliamentary representation
 Any electoral system tends to favor the
interests of some parties at the expense
of others

Party Systems in General
► It was Maurice Duverger (1957) who
first focused on how party systems
influence democratic stability
► In the Spanish case, Spain is part of a
group of studies which attempted to
ascertain the critical role played by
political parties during the southern
European transitions from
dictatorships to democracy
Party Systems

► Duverger hypothesized that first-past-

the-post systems tended to create
stable, two-party systems.
► The thought was that multi-party
systems and proportional
representation was more unstable.

Harmann article

► Harmann’s article roughly follows the

logic of Duverger – not necessarily in
the sense of stability/instability, but
that it is electoral systems
determine/create different party

Harmann’s thesis
► The federalization of Spain has
compounded representation by adding
new layers of elections and
representative institutions.
► Compounded representation – can be
defined as the fact that citizens have
multiple layers of representation –
federalism. You have central
government, regional and municipal
► Why is this important? 7
Harmann’s thesis
► This is important because federalism is
what allows territorially based groups
that hold a minority position nationally
to become a majority subnationally
and gain access to regional
► In other words the system provides
incentives for regional parties to form
and compete at the local level.
Harmann article

► Therefore, while she recognizes that

the regional dimension has always
been important in the ‘historic’
regions, she hypothesizes that in the
non-historic regions, support for
regionalist parties will increase.

Spain’s party systems
► Three main types of party systems:
► 1. Regions in which regional parties have
captured a majority of the votes in at least
one election (CAT, BC)
► 2. Regions in which regional parties present
a sizable opposition (10% or more) (Balearic
and Canary Islands, Valencia)
► 3. Regions in which regional parties do not
play a significant role in the party system
(Castilla La Mancha, Madrid).

Harmann’s Conclusions
► In Cantabria, Navarre and the Canary
Islands, regional party influence did rise
over time.
► But while support for regional parties is
growing, in many territories it is insignificant
(1% in Valencia, Madrid and Castilla-La
Mancha), particularly compared to the
Basque Country (67%).
► Results are mixed. Andalusian Socialists
have all but disappeared, while Bloque
Nacionalista Galego has grown.
Harmann’s Conclusions
► She also shows that people split their
votes – they vote more for regional
parties in regional elections and
national parties in national elections.
► People perceive a regionalist party as
most likely to look after them at the
regional level, but not necessarily to
represent them or govern them at the
national level.
Colomer article
► Theessence of the Colomer article is
that he ‘flips’ Duverger’s law that says
that the organization of electoral
systems ‘creates’ party systems.

Colomer’s thesis
► Instead he argues:
► 1. the establishment of majority rule
electoral systems for first democratic
elections occurs where previously existing
political configurations are dominated by a
small number of parties.
► 2. In cases where PR was introduced,
multiparty systems already existed before
the introduction of PR, and are thus more a
cause than consequence of PR systems.
Colomer’s thesis in Spanish
► Thisis absolutely accurate in the
Spanish case. Historical parties had
survived Francoism, in one form or
another, including PSOE (Socialists),
PSC (Communists), ERC (left-wing
Catalan nationalists), PNV (Right-wing
Basque Nationalists).

Colomer’s thesis in Spanish
► The Assemblea de Catalunya was a
broad coalition of Catalan political
interests seeking Catalan autonomy
during the latter years of the Franco
► In the Basque country, the Basque
government-in-exile had existed
continuously since it had been
banished from Spain in 1939.
Colomer’s thesis in Spanish
► Andalusia’salternative political strategies
were based on economic grievances, as a
small, controlling elite stifled badly needed
restructuring and land reform and
maintaining Andalusia’s overall

► Thereforethe autonomy movement in

Andalusia came in the form of the
Andalusian Socialist Party, which polled 10%
in the 1979 legislative elections. 17
Colomer’s thesis in Spanish
► Galicia’s organization was also less defined,
while left-wing groups organized for Galician
autonomy, caciquismo was still very much
alive, and controlled by the right’s
democratic successor, the Alianza Popular,
led by Manuel Fraga, an ex-minister under
► Galicia is a case which demonstrates
Harmann´s thesis – the Bloque Nacionalista
Galego is a nationalist party which entered
into a governing coalition in Galicia for the
first time in 2005 (0% in 1985 to 18.7% in 18
Territorial Interests
► In many ways, the electoral system
was set down by these territorial
interests which were already active at
the beginning of the transition.
► But what about the ‘bunker’. As you
know by now, deals had to be made
with the Francoists in order to move
forward. How was the stateness issue
What did the outgoing
Francoists want?
► 1) Bicameral system
► 2) Universal suffrage restricted to
those over 21 years old, for fear of the
‘radicalized youth’
► 3) A majoritarian (first past the post)
system (believed to favor conservative
parties) was demanded.

What did they get?
► The first two demands (bicameral and
sufferage at 21) were granted
(although the vote was lowered to 18
before the 1979 elections).
► The third system (majoritarian) was
only granted for elections to the
Senate, and not for the much more
important congreso, which was given a
proportional system.
Spanish Electoral System
► The Spanish system remains in
essence the same from that which was
developed for the first post-Franco
elections of June 1977, which elected
the constituent assembly.
► As we discussed, the transition was full
of compromises, the electoral system
was no exception.

The Transition and Electoral

► Due to the stateness issue,

compromise was the ‘name of the
game’, unionwide parties had no
choice but to negotiate on matters
which were important to NSWPs (Non
State-Wide Parties), most critically in
regions where the state retained the
least amount of legitimacy.
Spanish Compromise
► 1. Holding national elections first
solidified a two-party, unionwide
political structure, as well as two sub-
state political systems governed by
nationalist NSWPs.
► 2. It allowed NSWPs in other
autonomies with strong regional
sentiment to form, some even gaining
control of autonomous regions
(Coalicion Canaria for example). 24
Spanish Compromise
► Onthe one hand, at the regional level,
coalitions and multiple parties tend to
be promoted because of the
federalization of Spain (mentioned in
the Harmann reading).

Spanish Compromise
► On the other, severe ‘correctives’ to the
proportional electoral system were
implemented, strongly favoring the two
larger parties:
► protection of incumbent politicians and
party leaders through closed and fixed
electoral lists
► survival of minority governments by
allowing parliament to introduce only
‘constructive’ motions of censure
Spanish Electoral System
► The electoral districts are Spain’s 50
provinces, and each of the 350 MPs come
from a ‘province’, not a ‘district’.
► This was also done to under-represent the
left during the transition – half of the entire
Spanish electorate is concentrated in just 16
► But the division was accepted as it avoided
the contentious issue of creating new
► Takes 34,000 votes to elect an MP in Soria
and 136,000 for an MP in Madrid. 27
Spanish Electoral System
► The senate holds four members from each
mainland province, plus one for each island
province (in the Canary Islands and Balearic
Islands), and two each for the North African
enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
► There are also senators appointed by the
autonomous communities (depending on
► Once again, the population distortion is high
– one million votes to elect Senator in
Madrid or BCN, 40,000 in Guadalajara or
Segovia. 28
Electoral lists
► Listsare ‘closed’ and ‘blocked’.
► This means that once lists have been
presented no alternations can be
made to the number of names, nor the
order in which they appear.

► What does this mean for citizens?

Electoral lists
► Whatdoes this mean for citizens? It
means you vote for a party, not a

► What are the implications of this type

of system?

Political Disconnect
► Spanish political parties defined by:
1. Low levels of membership – reflecting a
lack of rootedness in society
2. a high degree of personalism,
3. Ideological imprecision

Why is this the case?

Political Disconnect II
► This is mostly rooted in the legacy of Franco
regime: forty years of authoritarian
government inhibited the assumption of
individual responsibility
► The system was organized around that basis
in the 1970s – elite dominated system which
sought to make sure that stayed that way.
Political Disconnect III
► Party Membership – European average
has been traditionally 15 percent, in
Spain it is 6 percent.
► Parties have strong leaders, with
strictly regulated hierarchical
command structures, little room for
independent initiatives.
► Party leadership transitions have
tended to be chaotic, both for the
Socialists and for the PP.
Spanish Electoral System
► The system favors bigger parties over
smaller ones (in smaller districts with
few seats to distribute, it favors big
parties. It is the most proportional in
big districts with lots of
fractionalization, like provinces of
► It does favor smaller parties which are
highly concentrated regionally,
however. 34
The results of the March 14th 2004 elections in Spain:
Party Nº votos Nº seats

PSOE 10.909.687 164 Look at the difference between IU

PP 9.630.512 148 and CiU and at the chart below:
IU 1.269.532 5

CiU 829.046 10

PNV 417.154 7

ERC 649.999 8

CHA 93.865 1

BNG 205.613 2 IU 1.269.532 5

CiU 829.046 10
EA 80.613 1
ERC 649.999 8
CC 221.034 3 PNV 417.154 7

NB 60.645 1

PA 181.261 0

Strange Repercussions
► Relative
parity between the two main
unionwide parties (PSOE and the PP) in the
1990s meant that working arrangements
between at least two political parties would
be necessary in order to form a government.

► With a regional party now in a power-

brokering position, regional policy
concessions became part of the trade for
support for the government.
► The effects of this was that from 1993 until
1996, the PSOE was supported by the 36

Catalan CiU in order to form a minority

Strange Repercussions
► Thegoal for CiU was clear, “to study how to
give support to the socialist government if
could agree on fundamental aspects of
government policy, particularly on economic
and autonomous issues.”

► In
Pujol’s own assessment in October, 1995,
“Catalonia has gained clout. It has gained
economic clout, it has gained clout as a
social model….it has gained clout from the
point of view of its own national
assertiveness….it has gained political clout,
Catalonia will be ever more determinant in
the affairs of Spain.” 37
Strange Repercussions
► The same was true between 1996 and
2000, when the PP needed CiU, PNV
and CC (Canary Islands Coalition)
► Less encumbered by economic issues
which had been paramount during the
1993-1996 period, the smaller parties
concentrated on extending
autonomous power as a chief
bargaining point with the PP. 38
Voting and Campaigns
► There is no requirement to prior
registration to vote in Spain: all those
whose names appear in census lists
are in full possession of their civil and
political rights to vote.
► Votes are scrutinized by electoral
colleges which are composed of
citizens chosen by lot, who receive no
formal training.
The Campaign
► The official campaign lasts two weeks
► In reality, it starts much earlier, but
nothing like in the US. The next
elections are in March, and while they
are definitely ‘planning’, they are not
► How does that compare to the US?
► A propaganda free ‘day of reflection’
immediately precedes election day. 40