Election Day in Spain

This Sunday, Spain goes to the polls to elect their new national leaders. All 350 seats in the Congreso de los Diputados (similar to our House of Representatives) and 208 of 264 Senate seats are up for grabs, and the results of those elections will determine the new president of Spain.

As you most likely know, Europe hasn’t been exactly flourishing financially lately. There’s a great deal of worrying how long the euro will last, Greece and Italy recently changed their leaders, and there have been lots of recent protest movements, including in Spain. The public is seeing these elections as an opportunity to get an entirely new approach to governing, which will hopefully help Spain out of la crisis (the recession), but we’ll see.

Spain’s presidential candidates (and their moderator) at their one debate

Like the U.S., Spain has two primary political parties, as well as a few minor ones that rarely get a large percentage of the votes. The PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, or Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) is the more liberal of the two, and Spain’s president since 2004, Zapatero, is a member of the PSOE. (Zapatero almost lost the 2004 election until Al-Qaeda bombed Madrid’s Atocha train station three days before the election, which, of course, shifted public opinion.) The second party, the PP (Partido Popular, or Popular Party), is the more conservative party, although “conservative” by Spanish standards means far more moderate than the American GOP.

Zapatero, understanding Spain’s desperate need for change, announced a few months ago he wouldn’t be running for re-election, so Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is Sunday’s PSOE presidential candidate. The PP candidate is Mariano Rajoy. The PP and Rajoy are expected to win easily since the PSOE just can’t seem to get it right (although, of course, if the PP were currently in control, they’d be blamed just as much for Spain’s problems), so there’s not much mystery about what will happen Sunday.

The most interesting part of this election for me is how not obsessed with it the Spanish public seems to be. You all know how crazy Americans go over presidential elections. The 2012 election is almost a full year away, and there’s been incessant talk about it for months already. Spain, on the other hand, forbids campaigning before about 2 weeks ahead of the election, which gives an entirely different feel to this thing. You can spot PSOE and PP posters and banners around the country now, but there’s nowhere near as much publicity as there would be in the U.S.

PSOE and PP election billboards. “Fight for what you want” with Rubalcaba or “Join the change” with Rajoy.

I don’t have a TV, so I don’t know how television coverage of the election is, but I do read Spanish newspapers almost daily, and there’s usually just one or two brief articles about the upcoming elections. Of course, these are free and not exactly award-winning newspapers I’m reading, but, still, even the National Enquirer goes crazy over American elections! The only times I’ve heard Spaniards talk about the elections have been when I specifically asked them about it. It’s not that the Spanish don’t care about their government — Spain’s 2008 national election had a 76% voter turnout compared to America’s 64%. It’s just not quite the media blitz I’m used to seeing. I’m guessing I won’t be staying up all night Sunday watching cable news channels’ live maps, polls, projections, and commentaries.

If anything, this is making me excited for our 2012 presidential elections, when I will get to spend the night glued to CNN. And it’s kind of fun that I happen to be watching the West Wing episodes chronicling the Santos/Vinick race while elections are going on here in Spain. Whatever happens Sunday, I just hope it helps Spain — and the rest of Europe — start figuring out its economic problems. It would also be quite nice if the euro didn’t collapse, forcing me to flee the continent. I like it here.

Not quite as fun as this election.

I’d also like to note that Spain has only had free elections for the past 34 years, so, although most people take it for granted, this is actually a pretty inspiring process to see.

If you’re interested in a really great, more thorough guide to Sunday’s Spanish elections, check out this post. And if you’re Spanish, be sure to get out there and vote this Sunday! Whether you side with the PSOE or the PP, take the PSOE’s advice and pelea por lo que quieres!

8 Responses

  1. Do you read any of the big newspapers online (El País, El Mundo or ABC)? I go for El Mundo, personally. I find it to be the most centrist of the three (with ABC being conservative and El País a bit more liberal).

  2. Nice introductory post on the election! And thanks for the excellent link to the World Elections reference!

    I think part of your experience is shaped by the not having TV. The election is heavily covered in the TV news. (The last 3-4 nights’ evening editions, for example, have featured 30-minute interviews with major candidates.) For example, I had a blast following all the twitter buzz the night of the big election debate Nov. 7th, which had record audience numbers watching it. That said, Spain doesn’t have the same 24h news culture as the US does, which I think drives the sensation of “constant coverage” there. Also, as you said, there is a blackout on campaigning until two weeks before. And, perhaps more significant, I’m pretty sure that third party groups (e.g. “Swift Boat ads” Greenpeace) are not allowed to campaign on behalf of candidates or issues here the way they can in the U.S. (That substantially reduces the amount of airtime spent on campaigns or campaign issues.)

    While you may be correct in saying that the election alone hasn’t amped up politics talk so much as it might have in previous elections, certainly the crisis keeps it going. I’ve found it hard to avoid politics talk with my Spanish friends and colleagues. It is practically a national passtime, and I’m struck by how invaluable it is to read El País regularly just to catch obscure references my friends or colleagues or people at the backery regularly make to statements made the day before by politician X, or editorials written by politico-journalist Y. At the moment, I think people are frustrated with PSOE and PP (as the dominant and arguably out of touch parties), which cuts the chatter excitement around “how will win” on Sunday. (Whoever wins, I know few Spaniards who are optimistic that that party will solve the national problems.) But the political chatter around heavily political questions (e.g. Catalan strikes over public health hospital cuts, or Madrid current public education battle) is as intense as ever.

    Oh, and some TV news stations have been advertising for the last week that they will be providing stay-up-late fulltime news coverage of election night, including polling and all the other rigmarole… They did this for the spring election, too. It wasn’t quite CNN’s glitz. But I think there is an audience for it, if not the same news budgets.

    Sorry to give an earful on this. I do think you did a nice job on this post and am glad to see expats sharing the politics landscape with readers back home.

    • Kirstie says:

      Now I’m wishing I had a TV to follow along (although perhaps I’d get overwhelmed)! It also sounds like I’m talking to the wrong Spanish people about the elections. The teachers at my school did get into a big political discussion the other day, and I was thrilled to listen, even though I didn’t know enough about Spanish politics to contribute. I love hearing political discussions.

      Exciting to know there will be lots of Election Night coverage! Perhaps I’ll find a friend with a TV or stream it online.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! It was great hearing your perspective on the election and learning a bit more about it! It’s a bit tough as a foreigner trying to understand it all, but I love learning what I can.

  3. Now you even get to enjoy a part of history! What an interesting time to be there! Not only will I be anxious to hear about your dad being there, but also who won!Keep posting- Love you!

    • Kirstie says:

      Definitely an interesting time to be here! Cari also got to observe elections when she was in Peru, which sounded like a very interesting process as well. Love you!

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