Has Spain Turned to the Right?

Posted by: Ben Vickers on November 21, 2011

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Mariano Rajoy’s staying power has paid off. After two previous election defeats under his leadership, the Partido Popular won an absolute majority in the Spanish general election yesterday, giving the country’s new conservative prime minister-elect a clear mandate for change.

However, despite the use of the word “landslide” in many headlines, there was no massive swing of voters to the PP—the conservative party’s votes increased by only a few hundred thousand, and its victory is owed mainly to voters abandoning the governing socialist party, which received 38 percent fewer votes than last time. The only parties that emerged markedly stronger were the regionalist parties, such as Catalonia’s CiU, which added six lawmakers for a total of 16, and the left-wing Izquierda Unida, which added nine lawmakers for a total of 11.

The PP aims to reduce the budget deficit and restore investor confidence in the country’s ability to pay its debts. How it will do that is not yet clear, after a campaign that was very light on specific proposals from either side. There have been no commitments on unemployment, which stands at more than 20 percent. There were no details on spending cuts. Rajoy told supporters last night: “Don’t expect any miracles. We didn’t promise any.”

So what does the PP stand for? The party is free-market oriented and draws on a large middle class in provincial cities and in Madrid. However, the social policies of Spanish conservatism are no longer that distant from those of the main left-wing party. As Soeren Kern of the Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos in Madrid points out, in 2008, Rajoy

“appointed the career politician María Dolores de Cospedal to replace the conservative Ángel Acebes as the party’s deputy leader. The 42-year-old De Cospedal is the divorced mother of a child conceived through in-vitro fertilization and who supports the controversial fast-track divorce and gay marriage laws introduced by” the socialist government.

The PP, defined in its statutes as a center-reformist party, has come a long way since it adopted it current name in 1989. The PP’s policy highlights the need to preserve Spain’s social security system—the party undertakes to “preserve the universal character and quality of public services that make up the welfare state.” It also emphasizes the importance of the family as “the fundamental element of society” which it says needs support after the erosion of the country’s birthrate to 1.38 children per family.

At the same time, the PP plans to reform the administration, reduce excessive costs and cap deficits including those of the regional governments, according to the party program. The number of managers and advisers to government will be cut. The new government also aims to promote private investment in infrastructure and public services.

Still, the PP’s 212-page party platform is thin on specifics and certainly doesn’t contain dramatic measures that might make headlines. Those are yet to come.

Photographer: Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images

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Financial markets are on the edge as investors await a solution to the European debt crisis. This blog examines the banks that hold billions of euros worth of Greek, Italian, and other sovereign debt; the governments that must pay off or refinance that debt; and the implications for the worldwide financial system if they can't.

Analyses or commentary in this blog are the views of the author and or commentators, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

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