The recent general elections held in Spain have led to a completely unprecedented political situation in our young democracy: no party has a clear majority or enough seats to govern.
The first party in the Parliament, the Partido Popular (People's Party) holds 123 seats, far from a majority that would be big enough in a House with 350 representatives. The electoral system that, since Spain's transition to democracy, has been thought out to ensure sound majorities in the government is now in a situation in which it must move towards negotiation and agreement. This new situation means that none of the important issues on the agenda can been left out: the right to self-determination and the plurinational condition of our state, stopping and reverting the growing trend of impoverishment in our society, a full reform of the productive and entrepreneurial framework and a change to electoral legislation, among other things. Constitutional reform in the near future is unavoidable. Specifically, this new situation will put the convictions and electoral promises of some of the political forces to the test.
The electoral result is a definite rejection of the politics of austerity, upheld almost solely by the Partido Popular. This party has gone from having 44.63% (10,866,566 votes) in the last elections, to 28.72% (7,212,390 votes) now: a spectacular fall that can only be seen as a broad rejection from the people of the policies that have sown the seeds of poverty, inequality and exclusion in our country.
The Socialist Party has seen the worst result in its history, obtaining only 22.02% of the votes and 90 representatives (compared to the 28.76% and 110 representatives in the previous term). However, the Socialist Party remains in second place and this result offers PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) a space for political initiative within the left, looking towards a possible – though very improbable – change of government.
The number of votes and seats obtained by both parties was important to gage the extent of the crisis in bipartisanship. This model that alternates between the Right-wing Party and the Socialist Party has been one of the consistent features of the regime born out of Spain's transition to democracy and both parties are responsible for the modernisation model that Spain has been subject to and its social and environmental consequences, and those related how our plurinationalism has been handled.
In this case, the results bring to light the crisis of the bipartisan model, which has been harshly punished, even though this punishment is not definitive. In 2008 the total of the votes obtained by the two political parties reached 84%, and 74% in 2011, but in these elections the two parties have barely reached 50% of the votes. However, they are still the two main parties in the country and the results tell us that it is impossible to carry on proclaiming or awaiting a swift and immediate crisis in the regime created out of the transition; above all considering that the fourth political force, Ciudadanos (Citizens), a blatantly right-wing party, adds a further 13.93% or 3,180,000 votes. Seen from a broader perspective, the parties that represent the establishment on a state level have gained almost 65% of the ballot.
However, this situation poses an unmistakable challenge for the Socialist Party: whether it wants to continue being part of the old model or whether it wants to join the ranks of the forces of change. Either option implies certain risks for the party, but this is a real tension that has already become part of public debate: one section of the party – captained by the Andalusian Federation, which has received a lot of support in these elections – is defending “state responsibility” and rejecting any kind of agreement with the forces of change.
Attention should be drawn to the excellent electoral results achieved by the social and political coalitions that stood both in Galicia and Catalonia. These are multi-party groupings with an important critical and social component, connected to intensive social mobilisations: housing, environment, feminism, food sovereignty, new forms of urban planning and participatory democracy. All theses experiences added together have created expectations that, right now, have truly surpassed the limiting framework in which the alternative left's state representation has been moving.
The results for Podemos (We Can) are important, bearing in mind that this is the first time they have stood in a general election; however, they are far from the fundamental expectations predicted by the leaders of the coalition: at least to become the second political force in the elections and/or be decisive for the governance of the country in a future after the Partido Popular, or in any case, to be the driving force in the prospects for change.
The results that Podemos obtained in Spain as a whole, not counting Catalonia, Galicia or Valencia, were 12.67% or almost 3,200,000 votes. The multi-party coalitions in the three aforementioned regions made up for almost two million votes, and 8 points for Podemos' overall vote count.
Furthermore, in these three regions, the groups formed had an agreement to create their own group within the House of Representatives, which means that the political management of this diverse coalition, aiming to act as single body in the process, depends on negotiations within the grouping of the coalition forces, and that they go far beyond the Podemos acronyms.
In the coming realignment of the alternative left, it seems obvious that the dialogue will be structured from various points of view, experiences, organisations and leaderships.
In these elections, Izquierda Unida-Unidad Popular (United Left-Popular Unity) reached almost a million votes and 3.67% of the ballot. Both in Catalonia and in Galicia, IU formed part of the electoral coalitions that obtained such good results.
An electoral law with an obvious majoritarian and conservative bias has meant that those million votes meant just two representatives in Congress; in other words, for Izquierda Unida, each of their representatives has cost them 450,000 votes, compared to 60,000 (approximately) for the PP or PSOE.
It was not clear how IU would fare in these elections, and the result shifted during the whole campaign within the limits of political representation. From this viewpoint, the results are fairly positive, even though they are far from what IU's leadership would have hoped for, which was to achieve its own parliamentary group at least. Without any shadow of a doubt, the good public acceptance of its candidate, Alberto Garzón and the demand from one part of the electoral base for unmistakable leftist discourse have played to the favour the electoral and political position that IU has been able to keep.
However, the situation created does not bypass the debate that IU must have regarding its future and its possible alternatives, and also regarding the situation that led the organisation to the doorstep of the elections in such unfavourable conditions.
The days after the elections have brought to light the feeling of unease within the system now faced with a reality that cannot be managed according to the old clichés and political formulas. There is no guarantee of continuity in the government – in any form it may take – nor is it clear whether an alternative could be definitively formed that would question the main decisions on economic policy.
However, even in the less intense situations of change, issues such as employment policy, social conditions for the majority, fiscal policy, education or health policy will see some kind of shift. What happens in Spain will undoubtedly affect the correlation of forces within the scope of the European Union.
This situation, along with the crisis in Greece and the results in Portugal, must be a stimulus for a necessary debate among the alternative forces, which would take into account the European dimension as an urgent issue.
A trend has been started that is asking a lot of questions on many fronts and expresses the radical developments of the moment we are living in and the need to rethink our old paradigms: nothing is as it was before.