While everyone in Spain is tensely waiting for the outcome of today’s election, it is clear that regardless of the outcome, Spanish citizens have eventually learned what the most important element of democracy is.
Being Swiss and at that time politically limited from my ‘Alpentrauma’ (i.e. a limited view on the world), what most impressed me when I moved to Spain back in 2003 was the very limited number of political parties. Apart from Catalonia other provinces seemed to only know the parties PP (Partido Popular) and PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español). Accordingly, the political interest of citizens was very much limited and people voted either ‘right’ or ‘left’. Some of my friends preferred to say that there were no right-ish parties in Spain and PP was only a bit ‘less left’ than PSOE.
Although it has been shown that a two-party landscape can be a logical outcome of a democratic system and while some praise bipartisan states for their stability, I always had my difficulties to accept that view. There are many reasons for my position. One of the least political is maybe the observation that humans are lazy. In politics this leads to a situation in which politicians start to sit back and relax once they have achieved the peak of their careers, usually expressed in claiming government of that country. Once in power, they feel absolute and forget that they are only appointed by the peoples to lead their country, not to impose their view on them. I wonder what can be democratic about a government that–as Mariano Rajoy did in 2013–tells its citizens that it won’t step down even after found guilty in a huge corruption case? What difference is there between such government and a monarch?
Even less democratic than an absolute prime minister is the fact that people don’t have a choice for a political alternative when exercising their rights to vote. When before the last elections in 2011 my Spanish friends told me that they would vote again for PSOE “since it was the lesser of two evils” while others decided to “vote for PP in order for PSOE to pay the bill for a very bad economic situation in which Spain was at that time” despite of feeling politically pro-PSOE, I felt confirmed in my belief that two-party states are only slightly better compared to one-party states but had absolutely nothing in common with democracy. In both systems citizens lack the option of choice, a lack that is anti-democratic in itself, not to mention its absurdity. Just imagine how you would feel about a country that had one party for women and one party for men. Or another that had a party for meat-lover and one for vegetarian, while everyone else had to choose between the two of them. Is it possible to represent the peoples of any country in only two parties?
What makes a country democratic is neither the fact that it is listed as democracy in Wikipedia nor the observation that citizens have the right to vote. Democracy is a process and it can only exist where existing institutions allow or–even better–facilitate this process. In a country with only two parties this is most unlikely, because similar to one-party states, there is always one party dictating the course of inaction. Of course it can be questioned whether newcomers such as Cuidadanos or Podemos will do a better job than the established ones. However, in contrast to Rajoy I believe that what matters is having new ideas and also the necessity to discuss, negotiate and make compromises. A government that imposes itself on its citizens in the way PP did under Rajoy is not any more democratic than Italy under Berlusconi or Russia under Putin. However, Spanish citizens deserve better than that, as we all do!
The most important lesson of today’s election is that today, the Spanish people will put an end to 40 years of heteronomy disguised under a pseudo-democratic veil. Citizens have decided to taking ownership of democracy and the process that determines it. I hope that others will follow.