Here is an article I translated from El Pais – It talks about the advantages of coalition government something which many Spanish are not comfortable with. The author uses the word ‘superstition’ but I believe it is just fear of the unknown and when the Spanish get a taste of it, they will grow to like it a lot. The last few years of majority government where the PP have refused to deal or talk or consult with anybody and have pushed through all their own measures in the name of the Spanish people when in reality they only represent about a third of the population which for me is even too much. He explains how and why the right win elections more often than the left, something which is sneaking in here. Madrid for example should be socialist but the right have been winning hands down here for too long. He says that the PP are cleaverer than the PSOE which I agree with. The PP has been running rings around the PSOE in Madrid for years. Believe it or not in one district they infiltrated the PSOE with PP people – can you believe that?? Remember the last time the PSOE won the presedency of the Madrid region and were voted out when the PP bought two PSOE representatives – can you believe that?? I blame the PSOE for being stupid not the PP for being Machievellian. That is just business as usual for the right. You have to be cynical when it comes to the PP. On that note the subject of Cuidadanos is open to conspiracy theories. Keeping in mind the track record of the PP and that there is nothing they wont do to keep power. It is felt by some that Cuidadanos is just a trojan horse for the PP party. They knew the game was up after they had been caught with both hands in the till, so they decided to start another party, more moderate, cleaner and more digestable – the famous liberal center according to the following article. And when the general election is over they form a natural coalition and on and on goes the nightmare forever and ever.
A Eulogy to Political Fragmentation
Diversity enriches Governments and citizens. Coalitions are not bazaars, but the control of one over the other. They include risk, but favor more efficient reforms, less corruption and a more robust welfare state.
Coalitions get bad press. Journalists and analysts warn of a ‘state of fragmentation’ which will open the way for endless local and regional administrations after these elections. From a league comprising only two we are going to a more open league, in councils, regions and very soon on your screens (perhaps before the next version of the Wars of the Galaxies) and also in the Central Government. We will lose governance and gain instability. Governments will get less done, what is more partners of varied colours will have to agree – which will seem like a curse when social problems mount up. But it is an unjustified fear. The tectonic change from what is fundamentally two party politics to multi-party is generally a blessing. Above all in times of crisis, weak governments achieve more robust results. They are more reforming, less corrupt and more progressive. The lack of confidence in coalition governments is not only a Spanish superstition. Since multi-party coalitions collapsed in the Europe of the 30’s – opening the way to authoritarian regimes – some prestigious political scientists have argued for the inherent ineffectiveness of coalition governments. However, new studies, such as from Johannes Lindvall, show how coalition governments have the amazing capacity to achieve ambitious reforms. For example, flexicurity reforms, that countries like Spain urgently need as they have rigid economies in some aspects, and insecure societies in many more. Holland or the Scandinavian countries were flexicurized thanks to and not despite their coalition governments. As the social democrats have to come to some agreement with the liberals, they are obliged to accept the liberal agenda (deregulation of the markets) in exchange for carrying out their own (social protection). With no overall winners or losers, the reforms stick and survive successive changes of political colour. On the other hand, the reforms of majority governments like those of Thatcher or Rajoy and Cameron now, which present a beautiful ideological bill, but are as fragile as crystal. The inevitable pendulum of the political alternative sooner or later will destroy them.
Moreover the multi-party governments do more good than bad. Taking everything into account, government parties which need the support of other parties are less corrupt than governments with absolute majorities. Coalitions are not bazaars, but control of one over the other. A streaming auditor of the government.
Furthermore, coalition governments are more progressive. When a country has a two party political system, the right has a better chance of winning elections. Try and imagine a centrist voter who is ready to pay an important amount of their earnings in taxes to support a welfare state for all. If for whatever motive a system only offers two possibilities on which to cast your vote, a party associated with the working class ( labour in the UK or PSOE here) and another for the business men (tories or PP), who will you vote for? The centrist voter will avoid the worst outcome. What is the worst that could happen if you vote right wing? Well, that once in power they turn out to be radical neoliberals, with which the voter has to conform with measures that enforce lesser welfare state and lower taxes than wanted. A bad option. But better than voting for the left which in the worst of the cases increases taxes and expenditure. For this reason, when the vote is a decision between two, the right usually win. If, on the other hand, the same centrist voter has a viable option in the center (the traditional role of the European Liberals and potentially Ciudandanos in Spain), the possibilities of progressive coalitions of the center-left increases. If the left does not cooperate, the center party can withdraw their support, which hypothetically prevents radical drifts. In this way, the researchers Torben Iversen and David Soskice have found that the countries with majority electoral systems are governed by the right 75% of the time. While in countries with proportional systems the right only governs 25% of the time. In other words the offer of the PP and PSOE to convert the local elections (and maybe regional) into a majority conflict, introducing a second round, shows that the PP is cleverer than the PSOE.
For now, Spain has a proportional system, but in practice it frequently changes both in general elections and regional and local to a majority system. And not only because the electoral system penalizes the small parties, but because the political context has been bipartisan. The public spaces for debate have been virtually monopolized by both main parties. Interest groups, professional associations and the media have had a bipartisan orientation also. Politics up to now was a thing of two. Now thanks to the crisis, politics is a thing of four. Or more. The eternal bipartisan politics has broken and the small parties are overwhelmed with debate access – unimaginable a few years ago. The voters note today that they have more than two political alternatives with the prospect of decisively influencing the government. Moreover, some of those alternatives could transform themselves into that center liberal party whose moderating presence has been key to maintaining the most advanced welfare states of the world. Finally, political fragmentation is beneficial because it can lead to more efficient reforms, less corruption, and a more robust welfare state. Without doubt, it includes risk, as coalition governments are delicate creatures. They need love and care. They demand respect between the parties. But the journey to this new more plural way of doing politics also requires a change of mindset in how society sees politics: is it confrontation or consensus? And the political analysts can help that transition or block it. We can underline to exhaustion the ‘electoral damage’ that wil from coalescing with such a party or extol their sense of responsibility. We could denounce the inconsistencies between the coalition members, their ‘cacophony of voices’ or we could celebrate the diversity which makes governments richer. And, in the end, all the citizens.
Víctor Lapuente Giné is lecturer in the Quality of Government Institute at Gutenberg University.