As Americans cast ballots this fall, they might spare a thought for Spaniards preparing to do the same — for the third time in a year, with little hope of actually electing a government. For nearly nine months, Spain has had only a caretaker, lame-duck government. Public infrastructure investment is on hold. Lawmakers have been unable to approve a new national budget. Some embassies are left with no ambassador. It’s the longest Spain has gone without elected officials since it became a democracy in 1978, and it’s testing the country’s fortitude. (Belgium is believed to hold the world record for a democracy going without an elected government: 589 days in 2010-11.) After a punishing economic crisis, two new national parties have emerged in Spain: Podemos, or We Can, on the left, and Ciudadanos, or Citizens, at the center-right. Both are led by fresh politicians in their 30s, challenging Spain’s 4-decade-old establishment of elites. The result? Absolute deadlock.
“Ever since the transition to democracy, Spanish politics were dominated by two large political parties on the right and left, which would alternate in power,” said Federico Santi, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy in London. “But now you have four, and you have to figure out complex coalitions. That takes time, especially in a country that’s never had to do it before.”
Two Spanish elections, in December and June, failed to yield a clear winner with a mandate to govern. The result was nearly identical: The conservative Popular Party won the most votes but fell far short of a majority and could not govern alone. Twice, its leader, incumbent acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, was unable to woo enough parties into a coalition. e failed two confidence votes in parliament in the last two weeks.
“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ We’re getting very good at voting, but our politicians are not as good at negotiating and forming governments,” said Gabriela Bustelo, a political columnist for Voz Populi, a Spanish online magazine. “It’s making people very upset, and columnists, well, we’re just going nuts.”