Opposition call to PM


Opposition call to PM to detail controversial plans for local elections

Government claims that citizens will be able to elect mayors “directly” under new rules

The Socialist Party on Friday demanded that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tell Congress about his plans for voting reform, which will affect the way mayors are elected.

The main opposition party is actively campaigning against changes that it describes as “election-rigging.”

The Popular Party (PP)’s intention of getting the reform passed thanks to its congressional majority, rather than through cross-party consensus, has also riled the Socialists. If effected, it will be the first time that democratic Spain has modified its electoral laws without agreement from both main parties.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The plans contradict earlier statements by Rajoy. In February 2013 he said he would “never modify election legislation using our majority. I think there are basic forms of consensus that need to be preserved.”

The change of tack comes as support for the PP has dropped from 44.6 percent at the 2011 general elections to 26 percent at the European elections in May. Spain will hold general elections again next year.

The change could mark the first time that Spain has modified its electoral laws without cross-party agreement

The leftist coalition Izquierda Unida (IU) also opposes the plans for municipal election reform and wants Rajoy to personally explain what it terms as “an involutionary reform.”

The few details that have transpired so far suggest that under the new rules, municipalities would be governed by the party that obtains 40 percent of voter support and leads the runner-up by at least five percentage points. Failing that, there would be a runoff between the two most-voted candidates.

The system would prevent post-election agreements between parties aimed at creating government coalitions and leaving out the party that effectively secured the most votes.

The system would prevent post-election agreements between parties aimed at creating government coalitions

The president of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), Íñigo de la Serna of the PP, said “there is no reason” why the Socialists should refuse to debate his party’s proposal, which is being marketed as a more direct form of democracy for voters.

In statements to radio station Onda Cero, De la Serna said that the current system of municipal elections benefits “those who would be mayor without having won the elections,” a reference to these coalitions among runner-ups.

De la Serna, who is also mayor of Santander, said that the reform will not benefit parties but citizens, and that Spain’s 8,116 municipalities will become easier to manage.

If the changes go ahead, the reforms will be implemented just two months before the local elections in May 2015

But experts consulted by this newspaper were not so sure. Ignacio Lago Peñas, who teaches political science at Pompeu Fabra University, said the reform will benefit the dominating parties in each region, and hurt smaller groups that typically come in third or fourth, such as IU.

While the PP is telling Spaniards that they will be allowed to “directly vote” for their mayors, experts say this is a linguistic trick. Francisco Velasco, director of the Local Law Institute at Madrid’s Autonomous University, says that the real point is to ensure that the party that gets the most votes puts its number-one candidate into the mayor’s seat.

If the changes go ahead as planned, the reforms will be implemented just two months before the next local elections of May 2015, says Abel Caballero, the Socialist mayor of Vigo. Besides being a rush job, the reform would open the door to runoffs and incur in the kind of additional expenses that the government has been trying to cut back on, he added.