Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Spain's traditional two-party system in disarray after EU vote

  • Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias - his party, only established early this year, got eight percent of the vote (Photo: Jairo Vargas)

Spain will send the most diverse delegation ever to the European Parliament with its 54 MEPs coming from 10 different political parties.

The country's traditional two-party system took a large knock in Sunday's vote. The governing centre-right Partido Popular lost eight seats compared to 2009 while the opposition Socialists (PSOE) lost nine and received only half the votes it got five years ago.

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PSOE leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Monday he was stepping down due the result – the party's worst ever.

In the 2009 EP election, the two parties together received 81 percent of the votes. This year they got only 49 percent, a development that many commentators in Spain see as being the beginning of the end of the country's two-party system.

The big surprise of the EP election was the new left-wing party Podemos that was created earlier this year, born out of the indignation movement that occupied city squares across Spain in 2011.

Podemos emerged as the fourth party, garnering eight percent of the votes and five new MEPs. The party is expected to group up with Greece's Syriza in the parliament.

The region of Catalonia had a different kind of anti-establishment vote where pro-independence parties got the greatest support. Four of the most-voted parties and coalitions are in favour of a referendum on independence from Spain.

The clear regional winner – Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) – saw its support within the Catalan region rise from 9 percent in 2009 to nearly 23 percent this year.

Party leader Oriol Junqueras said the result was "another step towards the freedom and independence of our country".

The separatist movement managed to engage their voters with a voter turnout of almost 48 percent compared to 37 percent in 2009 in Catalonia alone. The national average was 46 percent, slightly above the EP election five years ago.

The election result is being seen as an indicator of the general elections in Spain next year.

"The Spanish are in general very angry with politicians and with politics – be it municipal or be it European," said José Ignacio Torreblanca Payá, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an interview.

However, Spain's anti-establishment parties – unlike in many EU member states – are not anti-EU.

Years of international isolation during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco is the main reason why Spain has no eurosceptic or anti-EU parties.

After Franco's death, it was Europe that Spain looked towards for democracy and prosperity.

"European integration and democracy is the same thing (for Spain)," says Torreblanca.

Meanwhile Antonia Maria Ruiz Jiménez, sociology professor at Seville's Pablo de Olavide University says that while there is some criticism of the EU's, discussion has never touched on withdrawing from the Union, or even opting out from some of its laws.

"In Spain, political discourse does not hint at the possibility of a threat to national sovereignty as a consequence of integration," she adds.

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