The elections for the Congreso de Diputados (the Spanish Parliament) held on 9 March 2008 have shown that the two-party system is stronger than ever in Spain, with national parties in the Catalan Countries, the Basque Country and Galicia losing out. The Partido Socialista Obero Español (PSOE, or Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and the Partido Popular (PP, or People’s Party) both won 5 more seats than in 2004. They won in every single electoral district in Spain. Overall, PSOE won 169 seats and PP 153, out of the 350 seats in the Congreso up for grabs.
One other party, however, did manage to gain a seat: Catalonia’s Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union, CiU) won 11 seats compared to the 10 it won in 2004. Two other parties have hung on to their seats: Bloque Nacionalista Galego (Galician Nationalist Block, BNG) has kept its 2 seats, and Nafarroa Bai (Yes to Navarra, Na-Bai) has held on to its one seat. But every single party received fewer votes, including CiU, which benefited from the low turnout.
CiU is the third largest party in parliament, although a huge gap separates it from PP. CiU will be able to form a parliamentary group, as will the Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea - Partido Nacionalista Vasco (EAJ-PNV, or Basque Nationalist Party), despite losing one of its 7 seats. On the other hand, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, or Republican Left of Catalonia) fell below the caucus threshold, losing 5 of the 8 seats it previously held, the largest loss for any party. Another party that was previously represented in the Spanish Parliament, Eusko Alkartasuna (EA, or Basque Solidarity) lost its only seat. The nationalist parties representing the Valencian Country and the Balearic Islands failed to win any seats at the national level.
Catalonia, key to the Socialist victory
It is important to note, however, that PSOE owes its victory largely to the success of the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC, or Socialist Party of Catalonia), in coalition with PSOE. PSC defines itself as Catalan nationalist. Without the 25 seats won by PSC, PSOE would not have beaten PP since its share of the vote has not actually increased since 2004. PSC leaders have already said that they intend to make the Catalan voice heard in the Spanish Parliament. PP’s results were better than in 2004 across Spain, except in Catalonia, where its increase was minimal.
It is worth bearing in mind that several parties, especially the banned abertzale parties (the Basque separatist left), called for abstention. Thousands are thought to have abstained in the Basque Country, 185,000 according to the Basque newspaper Gara. 10% fewer people voted in Euskadi and Navarre compared to four years ago, and in Catalonia turnout was down 5%.
The results of the Spanish legislative elections, which give José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero another four-year term as President of the Spanish Government, demonstrate that the two-party system is becoming more and more entrenched in Spain, with little room for diversity and a tendency to shy away from forming alliances with smaller parties. Responding to the election results, the leaders of Catalan, Basque and Galician parties have highlighted the importance of – on the one hand – looking inwards and connecting with the needs and sensitivities of civil society in their respective nations – and on the other – looking outwards towards Europe.