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Parliamentary Election - March 2008

President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) faced off March 9, 2008, in a rematch of their 2004 contest. Officially, campaigning began February 22 and ended March 8 (to allow a day of national reflection before the vote). Unofficially, the parties and candidates had been hard at it for months.

At stake were all 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies (Congress) and all 208 elected seats in the Senate; another 56 Senate seats were filled by appointments by the governments of Spain's 17 autonomous communities (autonomous communities, equivalent to US states, are the first tier political divisions in Spain). The new Congress will in turn select a new President (the Senate plays no role). Each of Spain's 50 provinces is entitled to a minimum of two seats in Congress. The Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla each have one seat. The remaining 248 seats are allocated among the 50 provinces based on population. Seats are assigned in each province by the D'Hondt method (proportional representation).

Voters (any Spanish citizen over 18 years of age and listed on the census -- there is no registration requirement -- roughly 35 million people) cast ballots not for an individual but for a party list in each province. The candidates on the lists are selected by the parties and placed on the list in rank order. If the party wins one seat in that province, the first person on their list gets the seat. If the party wins two seats, then numbers one and two on the list receive the seats, and so on. There is no residency requirement to appear on a provincial list. A great deal of gamesmanship goes into deciding on which provincial list to place a party's most appealing politicians. Likewise, there can be intra-party strife as rivals try to push each other off the lists, down the lists, or onto a list in a province deemed unsafe for that party.

In addition to the PSOE and PP, other parties with some hope of winning congressional seats fielded candidates. There are far more parties registered and likely to present candidates, but most are not viable. For example, there is one whose entire platform is banning bullfighting. The small parties in a position to win seats were: the Basque National Party (PNV); the Convergence and Union Party (CiU - Catalonia); the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC); the United Left (IU); the Canary Coalition (CC); the Galician National Block (BNG); the Aragonese Junta (CHA); the Union, Progress, and Democracy Party (UPD); the Basque social democrats (EA); and the Navarra/Basque party (Na-Bai). None of them had a chance of winning the presidency; their significance comes in the likely event that neither the PSOE or the PP win an absolute majority and thus they have to wheel and deal to make their man President.

The PSOE campaigned heavily on the economy's growth during its government, historic budget surpluses, and growth of various social programs. However, voter confidence had been affected by recent signs that the Spanish economy was softening. The PSOE attempted to downplay negative economic indicators, while the PP argued the economy was indeed softening and that the PP is the best party to manage the difficult times to come. Other major election themes included regional autonomy, immigration, and law enforcement. The PP argued that the PSOE has made too many concessions to Basque and Catalan regional governments, is weak on ETA (Basque) terrorism, and is soft on illegal immigration.

Foreign Affairs and the U.S. were not key issues in the elections. However, the PSOE reminded voters it got Spain out of its unpopular Iraq involvement while the PP argued that Spain's international prestige and influence has slipped as a result of such actions. Both the government and the PP strongly criticized U.S. and German/British/French/Italian support for Kosovo's declaration of independence, which they feared would be seen by Basque and Catalan separatists as a precedent for their own aspirations.

Zapatero was re-elected for a second term as President on March 9, 2008. President Zapatero's center-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) narrowly defeated Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party (PP), and was seven seats shy of a majority in the 350-seat congress, forcing it to barter with small regional parties and the leftist IU to gain support. Foreign affairs did not play a major role in the campaign, but the PSOE reminded voters that it removed Spain's troops from an unpopular war in Iraq. The opposition Popular Party (PP) also gained seats in the March 9 general elections and has retained losing presidential candidate Mariano Rajoy as its leader, though the party had suffered from internal divisions. Zapatero kept most of the key players in his cabinet in their posts. Miguel Angel Moratinos remained Minister of Foreign Affairs. Zapatero's new cabinet has more female ministers (9) than male (8), including Spain's first female Defense Minister. The most prominent change was that Carme Chacon became Spain's first-ever female Minister of Defense; she was described in the press as a possible eventual successor to Zapatero.

In the 07 June 2009 European Parliament elections, the opposition Partido Popular gained an edge over President Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party (23-21 seats). With 46 percent participation, Spain compared favorably with other European Union countries in terms of voter turn-out. While the Socialists trailed by 3.7 percent in the vote tally, they claim the results are "relatively positive" and reflective of the global economic downturn rather than any specific criticism of President Zapatero. With plenty of time to redirect the situation before the 2012 general elections, Zapatero and his team are not expected to make any immediate shifts in response to the election results, particularly since Zapatero shuffled his cabinet in advance of the elections.

Zapatero announced in April 2011 that he would not run for re-election in 2012. Zapatero's government liberalized the traditionally Roman Catholic country by introducing reforms such as gay marriage. But he was seen as having been slow to react to Spain's financial crisis and the bursting housing bubble. Unemployment was high, growth was sluggish and the country's public debt is growing. Those concerns pushed Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was not running for another term, to call for early legislative elections.

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