Spain Political Parties

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Spain - Political Parties

Popular Alliance

The Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular--AP) was a conservative right-wing party founded in 1976 by former Franco ministers under the leadership of Fraga, who had helped to prepare the way for reform during the Franco era and who had expected to play a key role in post-Franco governments. He underestimated the popular desire for change and distaste for Francoism, and he advocated an extremely gradual transition to democracy. Although Fraga had originally intended to convey a reformist image, his party was perceived by the electorate as both reactionary and authoritarian. Fraga's own outbursts of temper and the close ties of many of the AP candidates to the previous regime contributed to this perception. When elections were held in June 1977, the AP garnered only 8.3 percent of the vote.

In the months following the 1977 elections, dissension erupted within the AP over constitutional issues that arose as the draft document was being formulated. The more reactionary members voted against the draft constitution, and they advocated a shift to the right. Fraga, however, wanted to move the AP toward the political center in order to form a larger centerright party. Most of the disenchanted reactionaries left the AP, and Fraga and the remaining AP members joined other more moderately conservative party leaders to form the Democratic Coalition (Coalicion Democratica--CD). It was hoped that this new coalition would capture the support of those who had voted for the UCD in 1977, but who had become disenchanted with the Suarez government. When elections were held in March 1979, however, the CD received only 6.1 percent of the vote. Deeply disappointed, Fraga resigned as head of his party.

By the time of the AP's Third Party Congress in December 1979, party leaders were reassessing their involvement in the CD. Many felt that the creation of the coalition had merely confused the voters, and they sought to emphasize the AP's independent identity. Fraga resumed control of the party, and the political resolutions adopted by the party congress reaffirmed the conservative orientation of the AP.

In the early 1980s, Fraga succeeded in rallying the various components of the right around his leadership. He was aided in his efforts to revive the AP by the increasing disintegration of the UCD. In the general elections held in October 1982, the AP gained votes both from previous UCD supporters and from the far right, and it became the major opposition party, securing 25.4 percent of the popular vote. Whereas the AP's parliamentary representation had dropped to 9 seats in 1979, the party allied itself with the small right-wing PDP and won 106 seats in 1982. The increased strength of the AP was further evidenced in the municipal and regional elections held in May 1983, when the party drew 26 percent of the vote. A significant portion of the electorate appeared to support the AP's emphasis on law and order as well as its probusiness policies.

Subsequent political developments belied the party's aspirations to continue increasing its base of support. Prior to the June 1986 elections, the AP once again joined forces with the PDP, and along with the PL, formed the CP, in another attempt to expand its constituency to include the center of the political spectrum. The coalition called for stronger measures against terrorism, for more privatization, and for a reduction in spending and in taxes. The CP failed to increase its share of the vote in the 1986 elections, however, and it soon began to disintegrate.

When regional elections in late 1986 resulted in further losses for the coalition, Fraga resigned as AP president, although he retained his parliamentary seat. At the party congress in February 1987, Hernandez was chosen to head the AP, declaring that under his leadership the AP would become a "modern right-wing European party." But Hernandez lacked political experience at the national level, and the party continued to decline. When support for the AP plummeted in the municipal and regional elections held in June 1987, there was increased likelihood that it would be overtaken as major opposition party by Suarez's CDS.

Democratic and Social Center

The Democratic and Social Center (Centro Democratico y Social--CDS) was organized shortly before the October 1982 elections by Suarez, who had been the principal architect of the transition to a democratic system after the death of Franco. After he resigned as both prime minister of Spain and president of the UCD in January 1981, Suarez continued to struggle for control of the party machine. When he failed in his bid to regain party leadership in July 1982, he abandoned the party he had created and formed the CDS. The new centrist party fared poorly in the October general elections, gaining only two parliamentary seats.

By 1986 the party's fortunes had improved dramatically under the leadership of the former prime minister. In the June elections, the CDS more than tripled its share of the vote, which was 9.2 percent in 1986, compared with 2.9 percent in 1982, indicating that many who had previously voted for the UCD had transferred their support to the CDS. In the electoral campaign, Suarez had focused on his own experience as head of the government; he had criticized the PSOE for not fulfilling its 1982 election promises, had advocated a more independent foreign policy, and had called for economic measures that would improve the lot of the poor. This strategy enabled him to draw some votes from those who had become disillusioned with the PSOE.

In the municipal and the regional elections held in June 1987, the largest gains were made by the CDS. A poll taken at the end of 1987 revealed even stronger support for the party, and it gave Suarez a popularity rating equal to that of Gonzalez. Suarez's call for less dependence on the United States appealed to the latent anti-Americanism in the populace, and his advocacy of a greater role for the state in providing social services and in ensuring a more equitable distribution of income struck a responsive chord among the workers, who were growing increasingly impatient with Gonzalez's conservative economic policies. Nevertheless, it remained to be seen how far Suarez's populist rhetoric would take him in his quest to challenge the PSOE.

Regional Parties

Spain's system of political parties was complicated by the existence of regional parties that were active both at the regional level, and, when they had seats in the Cortes, at the national level. In most autonomous communities, politics was dominated by regional affiliates of one of the two national parties, the PSOE and the AP, with the PSOE controlling the greater number of regions. In some of the autonomous communities, however, these regional offshoots had to form coalitions with truly local parties if they wished to govern. Only the Basque Country and Catalonia had regional parties that were strong enough to set the political agenda; the most important were the PNV and the Catalan electoral coalition; Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unio--CiU). These two moderately right-wing parties routinely won seats in the Cortes, and the CiU did well enough in regional elections to govern Catalonia, if it chose, without the aid of coalition partners. It was also the only regional party that had a decisive role in politics on the national level. This foremost exponent of Catalan nationalism occasionally supplied important parliamentary support to the UCD in the late 1970s. By far the second most important party in Catalonia was the regional offshoot of the PSOE, the Socialists' Party of Catalonia (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya--PSC).

The Catalan party system in general was characterized by pragmatism and by moderation. By contrast, the Basque national parties were beset by polarization, fragmentation, and political violence. In 1986 a group of PNV dissidents, unhappy with both the party's economic conservatism and its willingness to cooperate with the PSOE's stern antiterrorist measures, split from the party to form the more radical organization named Basque Solidarity (Eusko Alkartasuna--EA). In addition, there were two more extreme Basque nationalist groups, the Basque Left (Euskadiko Ezkerra--EE) and the HB. The more radical of these was the HB, which included Marxist-Leninist revolutionary and ultranationalist groups and which was closely linked to the ETAM . The party emphasized social revolution and armed struggle for Basque independence. The EE party was believed to be tied to the less violent ETA Political-Military Front (ETA Politico-Militar-- ETA-PM). These nationalist parties almost invariably won seats in the Cortes.

Political parties

Prior to the arrival of participatory democracy in Spain in the late 1970s, Spanish citizens had scant experience with political involvement. Suffrage was extremely limited, electoral mechanisms were controlled and corrupt, and political parties were elitist. Under the Francoist regime, Spanish society was depoliticized; the only political formation officially sanctioned was the National Movement. Remnants of the socialist and the communist parties functioned underground, and they were subject to severely repressive measures.

After forty years without parliamentary elections, political parties were revived, and they proliferated in the months following Franco's death. Leftist parties that had been exiled or had functioned clandestinely, such as the communists and the Socialists, had existing organizations and ideological traditions to form the bases of renewed political activity. The center and the right, however, had no such structures in place, and they lacked experience in political involvement. The coalition party that was victorious in the first elections of the new democratic regime in June 1977, the center-right UCD, failed to develop a coherent political vision. Its brief period of success was due largely to the charisma of its leader, Suarez, and the party ultimately succumbed to its internal conflicts.

With the victory of the PSOE in 1982, Spain's political system moved from a moderate right-left division to a predominance of the center-left. Support for the PSOE had become less class-based and more widespread as Spain underwent economic transformation and as the party became less dogmatic. In general, the tendency of Spain's party politics has been toward the center, and support for extremist parties has declined markedly, which bodes well for the country's future stability.

Spanish Socialist Workers' Party

The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE) is the oldest political party in Spain. Founded by Pablo Iglesias in 1879 as a Marxist proletarian party, it evolved alongside the trade union UGT, which was the basis of its support. The goal of both organizations was to obtain a voice for the working class in the political arena. As the party began to win parliamentary seats in the 1920s and the early 1930s, its membership began to broaden to include intellectuals, writers, and teachers. The PSOE's first experience as a governing party was during the turbulent Second Republic, but its time of leadership was short-lived. The party experienced severe repression under Franco, and its leaders went into exile, primarily in France.

In the early years of the Franco dictatorship, the PSOE within Spain was almost obliterated. In succeeding years, the party's leadership in exile gradually lost touch with what was evolving inside the country. In the mid-1950s, socialist groups began to organize within Spain; and, in the 1960s a small group of activists, led by two young labor lawyers from Seville (Spanish Sevilla), Alfonso Guerra and Felipe Gonzalez, revived the PSOE and began to agitate for changes within the party.

The leaders in exile had fought in the Civil War, and they had strong feelings against compromising the ideological purity of their cause by collaborating with other forces opposing Franco. Conversely, the younger activists, with no personal memories of the Civil War, were willing to work with other antiFranco groups to the left as well as to the right of the PSOE. These young socialists, who had been strongly influenced by Social Democrats in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), also favored a more moderate ideology than the rigid Marxism of the old guard. By 1972 the struggle for power between these two groups had been won by the younger generation, and Gonzalez was elected secretary general of the PSOE at its Twelfth Congress in 1974.

During the transition to democracy, the PSOE essentially cooperated with the reform plans set forth by Suarez, as did the other major leftist groups. When the country's first free elections since the Civil War were held in June 1977, the PSOE became Spain's leading opposition party. While growing in popularity, however, the party was beset from within by profound ideological tensions. Although the Socialists had gained support by presenting an image of moderation to the electorate, this stance was vehemently attacked by the more radical members of the party, who criticized Gonzalez and his supporters for placing more emphasis on gaining votes than they did on advancing the interests of the workers.

This rift came to a head at the party's Twenty-Eighth Congress in May 1979. When Gonzalez failed in his effort to remove the term Marxist from the party's constitution, he resigned. Gonzalez was successful in his gamble that most PSOE members considered his leadership invaluable, and at an extraordinary congress held in September 1979, he was re-elected on his own terms. The party no longer defined itself as Marxist, and policies of moderation and pragmatism prevailed, thereby enabling the PSOE to appeal to a wider spectrum of society. This broader electoral base was a key factor in the Socialists' victory in 1982, when they increased their popular vote from 5.5 million in 1979 to 10 million.

Nevertheless, Gonzalez continued to emphasize economic modernization rather than traditional socialist policies, which resulted in increasingly vociferous opposition from his historical base of support, the labor unions. A poll taken at the end of 1987 revealed a steady, albeit not dramatic, decrease in popular support for the Socialists. Even so, in mid-1988 the PSOE, as governing party, had no serious rival.

Other National Parties

Smaller parties emerged during the 1970s and the 1980s, and they frequently became part of various coalitions. The PDP had been a component of the UCD, but it re-established its separate identity in 1982, joining with the AP for the October 1982 electoral campaign and forming part of the CP during the June 1986 elections. The PL, founded in 1977, also allied with the CP in 1986. The centrist Democratic Reformist Party (Partido Reformista Democratico--PRD), established in 1984, stressed decentralization and greater independence for local party leaders. A new radical right-wing party also emerged in 1984, the Spanish Integration Committees (Juntas Espanolas de Integracion). Founded by former Franco ministers, the party presented an updated version of the Falangism of the Franco regime. Another extreme right-wing party, the National Front (Frente Nacional-- FN), was formed in October 1986. On the left, the radical Progressive Federation (Federacion Progresista--FP) called for greater decentralization and for a neutralist foreign policy.

Special interest groups also established political organizations. The Spanish Green Party (Partido Verde Espanol-- PVE) convened its first party congress in February 1985. The group focused on wide-ranging environmentalist concerns, and it opposed NATO membership for Spain. There was also a Feminist Party (Partido Feminista--PF) that focused primarily on education.

Communist Party of Spain

The Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de Espana-- PCE) had its beginnings in Spain during the revolutionary upsurge that followed World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The Spanish communists did not become so strong a force as their counterparts in other European countries, however, largely because of the existence in Spain of strong socialist and anarchist movements that already occupied the left end of the political spectrum. PCE membership, never very large in the party's early years of activity, declined dramatically under the repression carried out by the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in the 1920s. Communist influence on the left increased when the PCE ceased attacking the Socialists and other leftist organizations and shifted toward a popular front strategy in 1934.

During the Civil War, the leftist forces were again divided. The communists were intent on finishing the war against the fascist forces before beginning their social and political revolution, whereas other leftist organizations were not willing to postpone the restructuring of Spanish society. The communists were brutal in their suppression of competing leftist organizations, which led to the party's ostracism by the other anti-Franco forces in the post-Civil War period.

In the mid-1950s, the PCE began vigorous efforts to break out of its isolation and adapted policies designed to bring together a broad coalition of parties, under PCE leadership, to oppose the Franco dictatorship. Ironically, it was the Franco regime itself, by focusing its attacks on the PCE, that enabled the party to become a rallying point for dissident students and workers. The party built a political base around the trade union movement known as the CCOO, and by the end of the Franco era the PCE, under the leadership of Santiago Carrillo, was the most effective political organization in Spain.

The PCE failed to take the initiative as this authoritarian regime drew to a close, however, and expectations of a hegemonic role for the PCE on the Spanish left were not realized. Although PCE membership multiplied following the party's legalization in 1977, the PCE received only 9 percent of the popular vote in the elections held that year; dominance on the left went to the rival PSOE. After the PCE's share of the vote fell to 3.8 percent in the 1982 elections, internal tensions within the party reached crisis proportions, and Carrillo's leadership began to be questioned.

As had been the case for the PSOE, the PCE found that the burden of dogmatic Marxism reduced its appeal for the electorate. Carrillo had succeeded in eliminating the word "Leninism" from the PCE statutes at a party congress in 1978, over substantial opposition. He continued to be criticized by the pro-Soviet militants within the party, who urged him to take a more revolutionary approach. At the same time, a more Europeanoriented group, known as the renovators, agitated for modernization and for more internal debate within the party.

In addition to ideologically based dissension, there was also general dissatisfaction with Carrillo's increasingly inflexible leadership. His repeated purges of those members who opposed him further decimated and demoralized the party. Following the PCE's decisive defeat in the October 1982 elections, Carrillo resigned as secretary general of the party; he was replaced by Gerardo Iglesias.

In succeeding months, splinter groups broke away from the PCE, further depleting its support to form pro-Soviet or MarxistLeninist parties. Among these were the pro-Soviet Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (Partido Comunista de los Pueblos de Espana--PCPE) and the Communist Party of Spain--Marxist-Leninist (Partido Comunista de Espana--Marxista-Leninista--PCEml). Within the PCE, Carrillo strongly opposed Iglesias's policies. He was particularly critical of the latter's proposal to form a coalition of all progressive forces that were to the left of the PSOE. This conflict led to Carrillo's expulsion from the central committee of the party, in April 1985. He subsequently organized and led the Committee for Communist Unity (Mesa para Unidad de los Comunistas--MUC), which in December 1986 formed a new proSoviet party named the Spanish Workers' Party-Communist Unity (Partido de los Trabajadores de Espana-Unidad Comunista--PTE-UC). By the end of 1987, there were indications of efforts on the part of the PCE, PCPE, and the PTE-UC to unify the three communist parties in time for the next general elections. The PCE and the PCPE, together with several other small leftist parties, formed an electoral coalition, the IU, to contest the national elections in 1986 as well as the regional and municipal elections in 1987.

The PCE convened its Twelfth Party Congress in February 1988 amid mounting agitation for a major revitalization of the party, which was plagued by financial problems and by a lack of unity. Although Iglesias had initiated the policy of a united left and had ended the decimating party purges, critics felt that stronger measures as well as more effective leadership were necessary to mobilize the left and to improve the PCE's showing at the polls. At the party congress, Julio Anguita was chosen to succeed Iglesias. Party members reaffirmed their commitment to workers' interests, and they adopted policies aimed at attracting environmentalists and pacifists to their ranks.

More about the Government of Spain.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

List of political parties in Spain - Wikipedia
Spanish Political Parties | Metapolls
Politics of Spain - Wikipedia
Spain - Political parties - Universitetet i Bergen
Spain election 2015: a guide to the parties, polls and

Spain Country Studies index
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