Monday, December 21, 2015

Spain's elections produce totally 'hung' Parliament

So extremely hung that only the, rather unnatural, coalition of the traditional twin parties PP (tories) and PSOE (Blairite pseudo-labor) could from a stable majority. But this is most unlikely to happen because it would be a near-suicide for the PSOE, already in serious trouble. 

Any predictable right-leaning majority is strictly impossible, while a left leaning majority is technically possible but would need to include the Catalan independentists (17 seats counting both parties, which are allied for independence in Catalonia) and that is simply unacceptable for the PSOE, strongly committed to Castile-centric Jacobin style unionism. 

So, barring a most unstable minority government, which would need in any case at least passive support by the PSOE, not allowing them to play the opposition role, the most likely scenario is a repetition of the elections in few months. 

The overall results

This is a snapshot of the new Spanish Congress (taken from Público, where I'm also getting other data from):

Note: 29 seats of coalitions are here presented as Podemos', 11 seats of coalitions are presented as PP's

As you can see the Conservatives (PP) hold better than expected (most polls forecast around 110-115 seats), while their "renewal" sidekick Ciudadanos (C's, pseudo-liberal, rather reactionary in fact) demonstrated to be a relative fiasco, getting many less votes and seats that Falsimedia (popular collective nickname for the bourgeois media) was forecasting for them. 

In any case the PP has lost almost four million votes and about one third (63) of their former seats. And not all them have gone to their FIDESZ-style replacement C's, whose leaders were often unable to even explain why one should vote for them. Heh, why not?, I guess. Or rather: why yes? Why to vote to the party whose main goal was to preserve the status quo, offering their help to whoever else would win, except to Podemos?

It is clear nevertheless that there is a strong right-winger vote in Spain, particularly among the older generations, and that it is amplified in terms of seats (the Senate is much worse, with the PP nearing a majority) thanks to a very distorted electoral system that dramatically favors depopulated rural provinces, where people has only very limited choice. I'll get to that later. 

The PSOE holds a bit better than expected, thanks largely to this rural provinces' over-representation distortion and its strongholds of Andalusia and Extremadura. But it is anyhow severely injured and has lost 1.5 million votes relative to the 2011 elections, which were already very poor results for the historical party that once helped to forge Pablo Lafargue (Marx' collaborator and son-in-law, author of the must-read book The Right to Be Lazy and first Socialist member of the French National Assembly). Their historically bad results in the urban provinces (fourth place in Madrid for example) are very symptomatic of an ailing force that manages to resist but won't last for much longer after having betrayed their historical ideals in such unforgivable ways. 

As for Podemos... better than Falsimedia predicted, a bit short for their dreams maybe. Good performance in general terms but weak in core Spain, getting their best results in the periphery, in some cases clear provisional borrowings from nationalist forces.

Seats obtained in each province (click to enlarge)

Coalitions are effectively impossible

A stable majority requires 176 seats, however:
  1. PP+C's: 163
  2. PSOE+Podemos+IU: 161 
The rest can be functionally split in two categories: (a) the Basque nationalists and Canarian regionalists, who have not enough seats to offer, and therefore do not matter at all, and (b) the Catalan nationalists, who have 17 seats and in pure theory could be decisive, as have been in the past. However these two Catalan parties (Catalan Republican Left, ERC, and Democracy and Freedom, DL, formerly Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) are immersed in leading the Catalan independence process and would not demand less than legal reforms that allow for self-determination. This is something that Podemos and IU can assume but that the PSOE will not. 

Other options:
  1. PSOE+Podemos+C's: it is almost unthinkable considering the polar opposites that Podemos and C's are. If anything this kind of unnatural coalition could just serve to reform the electoral law prior to new elections, little more, and it does not look like something the PSOE wants to do. Also the position of the PP in the Senate is so strong that it could maybe veto any such attempt of reform.
  2. PP+PSOE: their voters share musical tastes (horrible ones, don't ask) and the twin parties share a general view of the unitary state, European Union, NATO and the TTIP, but that doesn't seem like enough, particularly because the PSOE can only expect to suffer for taking part in such kind of alliance, including probably a break up of the party itself, something that has not happened since the Communist Party was formed in the 1920s. It'd be the the final suicidal Pasokization of the PSOE. Nuff said.

Overview of the biased electoral system

By law 102 of the 350 seats are assigned to the 50 provinces (two each) and the African "plazas" (one each), then the remaining 248 seats are apportioned by provinces according to last census' population (in some cases like Soria and the African towns they get zero). 

The assignment of seats is not proportional either but is attributed by the so-called D'Hont system, after removing all lists that didn't reach 3% of legal votes. The D'Hont system divides each list's vote figure by integer numbers (1/1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, etc.) and then assigns one seat to each resulting figure in order of these artificially resulting figures. It approaches proportionality in large circumscriptions but not in smaller ones. 

The whole system is designed to be "conservative", favoring the large consolidated parties with strong presence in all the territory, notably rural provinces with very little population. It is not as extremely distorting as the Anglosaxon "winner takes all" system (which I consider outright bipolar-fascist) but tends to that anyhow. 

The over-representation of rural areas has hardly any comparison and it strongly favors rural Castile and other semi-assimilated low population areas where "caciquismo" and conservatism is strong:

Most over-represented provinces in the Spanish electoral system

The election of the Senate is even more ridiculously distorted. The apportioning is vaguely inspired on that of the USA, with four seats being attributed to each province, of which each elector can vote to three only. The voting is technically nominal but in practical terms the result is invariably that three senators go to the most voted list and one to the second one. Of course provinces are mere administrative divisions akin to English counties or French departments and have none of the federal self-rule that US states enjoy, nor do they have in most cases any ethnic or other distinctive feature making them deserving of such representation privileges. On the contrary: their over-representation weights strongly in favor of Castile-centric nationalist uniformity.

In addition to all that, voting for the million-plus expatriates (mostly economic exiles, naturally unhappy with how things go) has become so nightmarishly impossible that they are effectively denied the right to vote.

Analysis of the results of the three major parties

The People's Party (conservatives) has done a bit better than expected, in spite of losing almost 5 million voters. Thanks to its wide implementation through the state (except in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where it is clearly much weaker) and the already discussed rigging of the representation, they manage to hold a quite undeserved plurality and can veto any attempt at constitutional or most other legal reforms.

PP (and participated coalitions): performance by province
We can consider the PP to be the Castilian National Party, sort of: the party of the caciques, embodying the worst of Spain: its backwardness, its powerlessness, its perennial inability to come together in a progressive project of any sort, its consolidated corruption, its unbearable nostalgia of the 16th century, the ghosts of Torquemada and Franco. All that is still strong, but not everywhere: its weak spots are the stateless nations of the Northeast (Basque and Catalan countries) and the assimilated but largely colonial regions of the South: Andalusia and Canary Islands. The reactionary PP is the most strongly favored by the extreme distortions to popular representation. 

The Spanish Socialist Worker Party (PSOE) used to be the glue that held Spain together, with strong performance in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Madrid and, of course, its stronghold of Andalusia, however today it is much much weaker and does not look like it can recover, failing to produce illusion in the masses after way too many betrayals and no sign of internal change. 

PSOE performance by province

In the map above it is most symptomatic how the PSOE fails to perform in key urban areas like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, etc., having lost almost all support in the peripheral stateless nations but also in the capital. It has become almost a rural party and that is not enough, much less for a party that pretends to be left-leaning and to appeal to the working class. 

The only big city they keep strong at is Seville. All the rest is quite pathetic for a party of the caliber of the PSOE. If Lafargue or Pablo Iglesias the elder would raise from the dead, they would cry. 

They are almost naturally being replaced by Podemos, which had a good showing but is however not yet strong enough:

Podemos and participated coalitions: performance by province

Podemos and its participated coalitions (in Catalonia, Valencian Country, Galicia and Huesca province) has performed best in the peripheral nations. It is still very weak in Castile (with some honorable exceptions, notably Madrid) and even in Aragon and Andalusia. Many of the votes obtained (alone or in coalition) in the Catalan Countries, Galicia or the Basque Country are clearly borrowed from the nationalist left. In many senses Podemos embodies in these elections the relative vigor of the peripheral "Spain" (the Spain that largely does not want to be Spain or that would accept to be only in radically different conditions of ethnically re-balanced federalism at best). Their discourse accepting the right to self-determination (favoring a union of the willing, so to say) has surely been key for those peripheral results. This is the kind of discourse that core Spaniards often hate, preferring to impose their Castile-centric uniformity by violent means. All that may explain, at least to a large extent the striking differences in performance of the new party in the various areas. 

Of course, these peripheral areas are also in many cases the progressive avant-guard of the state and have been so for centuries already, but it is very difficult for a party to fly an understanding discourse with Catalan or Basque grievances and get any sympathies in core Spain, entrenched in Greater Castilian (alias Spanish) nationalism. 

Another reason for their relatively weak performance in core Spain is that they wrongly chose to run separately from United Left, with whom they formed coalitions in several countries (Valencia, Catalonia, Galicia) but not elsewhere. This stubbornness about running solo in core Spain is not justified and has clearly damaged them. I haven't got time to study how many seats they have lost for this stupid reason but my hunch is that around a dozen, enough to form a coalition government with the PSOE probably, one in which they could be leaders even.  

Update: Podemos+IU would have got 14 extra seats according to El Diario, mostly at the expense of the PP (-9) and C's (-4):

If Podemos+IU would have run together (right) compared with actual results (left)

This would have allowed for a left-leaning PSOE+Podemos+coalition government, short of just 3 seats to get absolute majority. Tactical support by Basque or Catalan nationalists would still be needed but feasible, particularly if institutional reform in federalist direction was agreed upon.

(Note: the El Diario's estimate seems to be missing two seats from the total count, not sure why. In any case they have an excellent 25 panels' analysis of the elections that I must recommend). 

On the good side, they have consolidated their position in places like Madrid, Cádiz or Asturias, with interesting results also in places like Burgos, La Rioja, Valladolid, León and quite markedly in Canary Islands too. Overall they appear very strong but let's be clear: (1) they could have been stronger in coalition with United Left and (2) many of their votes are borrowed from the nationalist or federalist ethnic left or direct product of the coalition with them (Valencian Country, Galicia, Huesca province). 

Notes on Catalonia and the Basque Country

Catalonia is immersed in a secessionist process with a strong enough majority formed by three parties: DL (center-right), ERC (center-left) and CUP (radical grassroots left). The former two run in coalition to the so-called plebiscitary elections in September and came short of a majority, awaiting till present day some sort of arrangement with CUP. CUP does not run to the Spanish elections and called for abstention, however it's probable that many of its voters chose to vote either ERC (which included a CUP member in their list) or En Comú Podem (the wide Barcelona-inspired coalition in which Podemos, but also United Left, participated). These two lists came second and first in Catalonia, with DL coming fourth and PSOE third (the vote was quite fragmented).

Overall a possible interpretation is that the leftist ideas are strong in Catalonia and that Artur Mas (DL) should probably allow someone more to the left to become the President, what would be surely supported by the CUP. This would put the independence process back on track, being a key issue in the institutional crisis that Spain is going through. One that has no easy legal solution but that may well be decided by unilaterally by Catalans themselves. Or so they are set to do in any case.

In the Basque Country I have to underline the very poor performance of the leftist nationalist Euskal Herria Bildu coalition. It owes probably to several reasons: on one side it is a key state election in which the all-Spain parties (namely Podemos) get all the attention and interest, more so as they are openly in favor of self-determination, on the other side there is a rather strong undercurrent of criticism to the current party-centered structures and way-too-moderate attitudes of the coalition. This may have led many to either abstain or vote for Podemos, arguably a more participative party. 

Of particular annoyance is the over-representation in the lists of the social-democratic (?) Eusko Alkartasuna party, including some quite disliked individuals, for example Opus Dei member Rafael Larreina (who openly stands against abortion rights) and his protegee the infamous Lorena López de Lacalle, whose political trajectory is wormish, both imposed in the lists against the decision of the popular assemblies. 

Ironically Podemos also imposed candidates to the local structures (controlled until recently by a very dubious character: Roberto Uriarte, of sad anti-labor trajectory and extremist Spanish nationalist attitudes). Uriarte and his cadres resigned as reaction, Podemos-Euskadi being now led by an electoral committee (a most provisional circumstance), but this resignation was perceived positively by many, with the imposed candidate being much more pro-Basque than the former secretary. 

This puts Podemos in the Western Basque Country (Navarre is a different case, its leadership being much more acceptable) in a very unusual situation: it has no active leadership, it has a weak membership (the 15-M protests were weak in the Western Basque Country, so the grassroots did not naturally coalesce) but it has a huge voting pool (although much is borrowed from EHB and will surely return to their natural coalition in regional elections, to be held soon), which is basically looking at Madrid, not the local leadership, weak and contested.

Another interesting development in the Western Basque Country is that most likely, and for the first time in history, a leftist coalition has hope to take the government and displace the perennial liberal-conservative PNV rule. There are many difficulties for this to happen but it is clear that Podemos appeals to a less "ethnicist" urban working class that EHB has difficulties in reaching to and that both formations potentially complement each other and could rule together for the good if they can overcome their mutual distrust. We'll see.


  1. I don't follow politics in Spain since I was quite young (and that's quite a while ago), but now being exiled for some years and with a slightly more interesting "show" I did keep an eye on it. And how I see it, in short:

    - For the Socialist Party (PSOE), actively supporting a government by the Conservative Party (PP) would be a suicide (as you pointed out)
    - Further, passively supporting it would be a suicide too.
    - But actively opposing it and forcing new elections is yet another suicide.

    What can they do when trapped in such situation? Go for the only option that can give them survival, the government and with a bit of luck to regain respect. Risky, but when there are no other options...: To join Podemos + IU + Nationalist Parties. Get a serious agreement about autonomy or even independence (the chances of independence happening are very low, even if they allow to vote. Just look at Scotland). So in one year they could solve this problem for good and regain credit, plus Pedro Sanchez would be president for 4 years to boot. And after those, Podemos would become less important (basically the new IU).

    For them it's either that or to die a slow death in 4 years in a big coalition. Not hard to guess what they will choose, even if risky.

    1. I've just been reading the latest news and it'd seem that the PSOE is tempted to support the PP. This option is supported by the powerful 'baroness' Susana Díaz, the Capitalist Syndicate and, oddly enough, the leadership of CC.OO. labor union, which one would expect to be rather sympathetic to Podemos and United Left (but is not). I'm quite sure it is also the stand of most of the PSOE's old guard (González, Guerra, Pérez Rubalcaba), whose interests are not with the future of the party but with the global bourgeois establishment they are deeply entangled with. For Sánchez and the overall party it'd be as good as suicide but will they have the courage to resist these powerful pressures?

      The coalition you suggest with Podemos and Catalan nationalists would be the most productive no doubt but I don't think that the PSOE is ready for something like that. Regardless of what Podemos says, the key are the Catalans and these won't settle for less than federalism and the right to self-determination, something that the remaining holds of the PSOE in Andalusia and Extremadura vehemently oppose (and has not been the stand of the overall party in many decades anyhow).

      So the less bad solution for Sánchez and the overall PSOE is to let new elections to happen in March (max.) and then operate depending on those new results. Results that are likely to benefit Podemos (particularly if it runs with IU), harm C's and are all but clear for the PP and PSOE (the former would get votes from C's but not too many, the latter could present themselves as "the real alternative" but how real?) In any case the results are most unlikely to be exactly the same ones and lesser changes in either direction would allow for easier governance, skipping the Catalans maybe (not that the Catalan problem is going to disappear at all, but a majority would admittedly be easier without them being key).

      Estimates suggest that Podemos+IU could get a significantly better result without harming the PSOE much, mostly taking from PP and C's. So, if what Sánchez prefers is a coalition with Podemos+IU, then new elections is the way to go.

      I must add that an official referendum in Catalunia, even if just consultative, would almost certainly be won by the independence option right now. Catalonia is 99% out of the identity loop of Spain and that must mostly be blamed on Spaniards' prejudices and lack of flexibility. Such a deep injury takes long to heal, too long to change the expected result in a referendum.

      The only thing that Spaniards could offer to Catalonia right now is nothing less than free confederation. And they won't (Podemos/IU maybe but not the rest). And even if they would, say the PSOE has the guts to face reality (that they do not), they lack a sufficiently large majority to make the required constitutional changes.

  2. Yes, there's a meeting today between PP and PSOE. We'll see. If the "old guard" thinks that a big coalition could work out for them, then it can happen (Pedro Sanchez won't have a word on it, really). But it's quite risky: even if all goes well and it turns out to be 4 years of stability and acceptable macro-economic results, how would PSOE present itself for the next elections? Not as an alternative, since they would have been in the government. Not as continuity, since they have been the allies of the real leaders of the government. Basically they will die as a party without identity.

    The scenario of new elections is possible too, but I think it will favour PP and Podemos, and hurt Ciudadanos and PSOE. Nationalists will remain the same. So overall I doubt it makes it any easier to for a government. The difference would be that now a hypothetical left coalition would be led by Podemos instead of PSOE, and this is the worse scenario of all for PSOE.

    I'd still like to see what happens in a real referendum in Catalonia, when they realize that if they vote to leave they will actually leave. I think PSOE can take the risk if necessary, especially when they are left without any other option to stay alive.

    We'll see how things develop these days.

    1. A Podemos+IU joint list would still not significantly hurt the PSOE in terms of seats, at least judging on the estimates floating around (reality is always somewhat unpredictable), and the only risk the PSOE faces with new elections is further bloodletting towards Podemos(+IU), whose minimal options in each province are now well known. On the other hand, they can gain some seats at the expense of C's, which is clearly the big loser and will no doubt poof out in a "second round" as the "fantasmas" they are, as has happened in Catalonia already (to the mild benefit of the PSC-PSOE, it must be said).

      "I'd still like to see what happens in a real referendum in Catalonia, when they realize that if they vote to leave they will actually leave".

      What do they gain remaining in Spain? Decades more of "ninguneo", socio-economical damage and anti-Catalan racism. Only Podemos+IU have an inclusive, plural project of Spain, for the rest it is just more Greater Castilian imperialism. The only thing that can actually stop Catalonia on its heels (and it may be already too late) is a radical reform of the state in con-federalist direction, something that is not happening and has not happened when the time was right. Catalonia is the epicenter of the crisis of the state, Podemos+IU the wannabe saviors, PP+C's the continuity of perpetual crisis without exit and the PSOE... we don't know yet - because themselves probably do not know either, excepted the old guard, tightly tied to the global banksters and who may well be decisive in a negative way, guaranteeing or almost the destructive blowing up of the state, instead of its constructive regeneration.

      If the PP continues, it will be the last four years of Spain, at least as we have come to know it.

    2. "What do they gain remaining in Spain?"

      I'm absolutely in favour of having a law for people to be able to choose their destiny with absolute freedom: a law starting in the UN and then in the EU, that is clear and reasonable and that is available to everyone. It's amazing that we still don't have it, when this has been the cause of most of the wars throughout history. But politically it seems we're still in prehistory.

      That said, I think that staying together has many advantages. And I'd be very surprised if Catalonia would really choose to leave Spain (what you perceive as "ninguneo" is perceived by others as them being the spoiled kid who has more rights than all the other brothers and still complains).

      I live in Macedonia (AKA FYROM, I guess you know why), and I'm not sure that people are that happy about how things have gone. Obviously the last years of ex-Yugoslavia with the wars were terrible, but here most people recall the good old days when they were a whole nation. I guess they're learning what "ninguneo" really means. The hard way. (But in their defense, they had no other option at the time if they wanted to stay in peace).

      In the current state of affairs, I do think that Catalonia should vote, even if the whole process has been done in such a sloppy way. It's not going to be the end of the world for anyone. And if we have to learn what we lose by actually losing it, then so be it.

    3. Let's be clear: that Catalonia and the Basque Country, as well as maybe some other regions like Cantabria have got a semi-autonomous industrial revolution, missing in the rest of Spain, only owes to the fact that they had free peasantry, unlike the serfdom that dominated the rest of the state. In this sense: where do the señoritos of Andalusia stem from? Catalonia? Not at all: from Old Castile and Leon and in some cases from England (Osborne for instance). Where does the PP get its stronghold? In Castile-León equally. I know very nice people in Castile-León and I do congratulate for the handful of seats Podemos got in these elections, which are a good sign. And it is consolidated in the oppressive latifundial reality of the wider "New Castile", notably Andalusia and Extremadura but also La Mancha, Murcia, etc. Combine it with roughly similar landscapes in Aragon and Valencian Country and the dark caciquismo "minifundista" of Galicia and you get Spain, the Spain that we do not like at all, the Spain of the PP-PSOE, the Spain still in need of a revolution that never seems to come.

      Catalonia has not got a single privilege of any sort since the annexation of 1721. And in spite of that it has relatively thrived thanks only to its own, more progressive, social structure. To a large extent that is also the case of the Basque Country. Where are the "privileges"? The privileges are in the rest of Spain, who believe that somehow it is legitimate to loot and abuse these accidentally more prosperous conquests. Castile-León, Madrid, Cantabria are rich (GDP per capita, relative to EU levels), nobody remembers that: the state pours billions into those regions anyhow, nobody complains. The Catalans are instead mocked, insulted and abused all the time because they are different, because they have a different language and a different national identity, because of racism or xenophobia. All the rest is fiction.

      There has not been a single Catalan president or prime minister ever, excepted the brief period of the First Republic. This would be astonishing if there would be true equality, after all Catalonia is the second largest "region" of the state, and one of the most important ones in economic terms as well.

      Spain as we know it is a racist Castilian state. And the inability to address these imbalances is why it is collapsing before our eyes. Podemos is the last ditch attempt (revolutions are emergency brakes when the vehicle goes downhill) but it seems they are not strong enough, particularly not strong enough in Castile and other "nuclear Spain" regions. Will the PSOE have for once a real "sense of state" and dare to accomplish the radical reforms needed? I doubt it. Susana Díez and Felipe González have already spoken: they are not a the level of responsibility required, not at all.

    4. The Republic of Macedonia is (very roughly) like Andalusia: they did not want to break apart but were caught in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This one began and ended in Kosovo, who had no place inside the state just because they were not Slavs. However they key steps in the disintegration were taken by Slovenia and Croatia, the most advanced republics. Neither of the three is looking back with any nostalgia, certainly not the Slovenes who broke apart with just 13 casualties.

      Spain is not Yugoslavia (where popular militias existed everywhere, where everybody had a gun at home, as do Swiss and Austrians) but there are some similitudes indeed. I remember this story told to me by a Spanish or maybe Catalan NGO member in a refugee camp: a little girl asked him how many republics his country had, not wanting to get overly complicated he answered that seventeen, and the kid replied: "whoa, that's very bad!"

      But in any case, if Catalans or Basques would get independence, I am sure that they will never look back with any remorse. On the contrary: the experience of every single newly independent state, from Finland to Poland, from Estonia to Slovenia, from Greece to Iceland, from Ireland to Bulgaria, is that, regardless of the problems, it is worth it.


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