Disruption of the Spanish party system: towards a new horizon for the right-wing?

by Inés García Manzanaro

 

Spain's domestic political scene is currently at an important juncture. A year away from the next presidential elections the situation of the opposition is uncertain, with the main opposition party in the midst of a recent internal scandal. Meanwhile, far-right and second biggest opposition party VOX is gaining great popularity according to the latest polls which threatens the dominance of the People’s Party, who have led the Centre-right until now. Spanish political landscape has become increasingly volatile after the disruption of the two-party majority system that had existed in the country since the 80s, with the emergence of new political formations with considerable weight in national politics.

Moreover, the entry of parties such as Podemos and Vox has further polarized the debate, and while the vote has split along the spectrum of both the right and the left, party agreements at both the executive and regional levels are becoming increasingly unstable and difficult to form.

 

Regional elections

The political context in Spain is peculiar given that the territory is divided into 17 communities and highly decentralized in terms of competences, such as health and education. It is precisely for this reason that regional elections can serve as a benchmark for understanding voting dynamics at the national level and possible government coalitions.

The government of Castilla y León, presided over by the People’s Party, brought forward the elections to 13 February. The decision was taken after the great success of the elections in the Community of Madrid, which were brought forward after a sudden break with coalition partner Ciudadanos. The rupture in relations between these two parties has its roots in the no-confidence vote in the government of Murcia, perpetrated by Ciudadanos to the detriment of its regional government partner. The already existing tensions between the leader of Ciudadanos in the region of Madrid and the president of the Community Isabel Díaz Ayuso (of the Popular Party) made a domino effect and a no-confidence vote in the region foreseeable, calling instead for a snap election.

However, the result in Castilla y León was not as good as expected by the party, winning the elections but by a narrow majority of 31 seats. The significant increase in votes of the far-right party, VOX, forces the People’s Party to make a pact to form a government. However, the People’s Party has not yet reached a pact, as it intends to govern alone in order to avoid damaging its centrist position and discourse.

Another electoral milestone would be the upcoming 2022 elections in the Andalusian Community. The region currently has a right-wing coalition government formed by People’s Party and Ciudadanos, also supported by Vox. Even though the polls showed a victory for the People’s Party in the upcoming elections, the recent strong internal party crisis that culminated in a reshuffle of the leadership has weakened its expected results.

 

Health implications

We can take the political manifestos of the parties that are expected to be able to form a government in Castilla y León as a reference point, as they are the most recent regional references. Despite the current circumstances – i.e. COVID pandemic –, not all of the main electoral manifestos put the focus on health issues.

The strategic lines of the People’s Party health manifesto are very broad – however, it highlights its commitment to provide an organization of Public Health professionals that responds to the "One Health" concept. The program prioritizes the promotion of a better system for health professionals, as well as measures to modernize the public health system, primary care and a commitment to reform the health infrastructure, starting with healthcare centres. In terms of updating health strategies or plans, a mention is made of promoting the drafting of a social and health care plan.

VOX's manifesto highlights the promotion of more transversal health policies focused on the management model. Thus, the proposal for the recentralization of healthcare, i.e. centralizing healthcare competences, is unveiled. The party vows to promote efficiency in the National Health System through "the introduction of formulas such as co-payment and the reduction of service portfolios".  Interestingly, the scope of the manifesto, although presented as a regional program, has a national character that is in line with an eventual manifesto for the national elections.

Ciudadanos put health care at the center of its priorities in its electoral program, vowing to increase the health budget to 7.5% and boosting primary care by allocating 25% of the budget to it. The program includes more than 26 measures for healthcare, including a mental health strategy, promoting rural care. It is worth noting that it is precisely Ciudadanos that has been the party that has called for the National Strategy on Rare Diseases to be updated. Also, Ciudadanos has been particularly active in the congressional health committee in promoting initiatives to increase spending on ALS.

 

Forecast

The results in Castilla y León are of particular relevance as they take place in the midst of the disruption of the political landscape in Spain and define the possible horizon of the national party system.

The near disappearance of Ciudadanos after the elections (they only won one seat, 4.49% of the votes), marks the juncture of the right-wing bloc and with it a reconfiguration of the opposition in Spain.

Due to the narrow majority gained by the People’s party, the party could only govern either with a coalition with Vox or with its abstention, which seems unlikely. The PP currently has an internal split: on the one hand, some members understand that making a pact and integrating VOX is the optimal solution and, on the other hand, others do not want to be identified with the more radical conservative wing that VOX represents, as they fear greater polarisation within the party and a loss of power for the traditional power-holders. In the worst-case scenario, the lack of support would force a second election in the region.

Therefore, resulting political context for the next national elections predicts for now a debilitated right wing in the face of the weakness of the main party of the spectrum, the People’s Party, and its need for support from VOX, which threatens to delegitimize its centre-right position. At the same time, the left also appears fragmented, and despite the waning popularity of the far-left party Unidas Podemos – which in Castilla y León obtained a similar result to Ciudadanos – the Socialist Party does not benefit from this vulnerability as also comes out damaged after this term in the Government.

In this volatile political context, keeping up with the changes requires public affairs professionals to have a strategic and future-proof mindset. It is also essential for stakeholders to align their interests with the political administration at a time of regional political instability. At RPP we are ready to help organizations attain their goals by providing a strategic planning in government affairs that is able to adapt to the changing institutional environment.

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