The objective of this paper is to examine the changes caused by the triumph of new local parties in the 2015 Municipal Elections in Spain. Data reveals a better management that has not been followed by a high citizen implication. This might show the limitations of our model of democracy for participation.
Óscar Villas Ferraz
The Municipal Elections of May 24, 2015 in Spain gave power to the so-called “parties of change” in major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia among others. Several new local parties aimed to start the transition to a more participatory model.
To what extent has this separation with representative democracy been beneficial? In principle, the greater participation that these parties make possible would have supposed an improvement in the management of the municipalities. If this hypothesis is not confirmed it would be necessary either to rethink the participatory model or to preserve the representative character of the previous legislatures.
To clarify the change that the entry of these parties has meant for the Spanish political landscape, there are mainly two points that explain its emergence. A first problem had to do with the traditional political parties which have a representative nature and a too hierarchical structure. The new parties, on the contrary, try to recover the Tocqueville’s idea of the empowerment of local democracy. They managed to fragment the vote and increase the volatility of the system, distancing themselves from the generalist discourses that characterized the bipartisanship as “catch-all” parties.
The second problem was conceived with the government’s reaction to the 2007 economic crisis. Regarding the municipalities, it was approved a reform of the article 135 of the EC which compelled the Public Administrations to give priority to the payment of the debt, leading to cutbacks in public services. After the 15M Movement in 2011 or the triumph of Podemos in the European Parliament Elections in 2014, in the 2015 Municipal Elections the new citizen- based parties such as Ahora Madrid, Barcelona en Comú or Compromís per València obtained the majorities in their cities mainly thanks to the support of PSOE.
To prove the hypothesis, we will study three variables for the main cities: first, the evaluation of the management of the City Councils; second, levels of participation in the new spaces; third, the degree of transparency. Regarding the opinion of the management of municipalities, as we see in the graph below, there has been a general improvement: the City of Valencia gets an average score of 5.7, while in 2013 only 14.2% of citizens believed that the management was good or very good; in the City Council of Madrid, 44% of people have a positive evaluation compared to only 27% in 2014; on the other hand, the City Council of Barcelona obtains an average of 5.05, when the previous term had a median of 4.47. Regarding the levels of participation, the main cities have promoted as means of participation online platforms for both debates and participatory budgets: the Decide Madrid platform has a low participation of only 45522 citizens; Decidim.Barcelona has a similar success with the participation of only 27115 citizens; the same happens in Valencia with the DecidimVLC platform (15338). To measure the level of transparency we will use the Transparency Index of the Municipalities (ITA). This index evaluates purely institutional criteria, that is, according to the degree to which they make their activities visible and accessible. In the case of Madrid, the score has improved markedly (from 92.5 in 2014 to 100 in 2017); Barcelona has remained at the maximum score (100); Valencia has also improved although it does not get the maximum (from 81.3 in 2014 to 90 in 2017).
Two conclusions can be drawn from these data: the first is that local governments are actually carrying out a better management of their cities; the second idea is that this improvement hasn’t been caused by a greater involvement of citizens, despite having created new ways of participation and improved transparency. Therefore, it is possible to affirm that only 50% of the hypothesis is fulfilled. But why it hasn’t been possible to transfer the dynamics of active social movements to the institutional form of local parties?
Firstly, there is a common characteristic among this kind of local governments which is that they govern in a minority, so the proposals don’t always obtain the necessary support from the PSOE or other ideologically closer parties. As it can be difficult to reach a consensus, the lack of majorities in the local government could discourage citizens from participating, as they may think that their involvement is useless.
The second reason is related to the inheritance of the previous legislatures, which have left an excessive debt. According to the article 135 of the EC, the current City Councils are forced to reduce it as a priority. Furthermore, according to the so-called “Montoro Law” the central government has the right to control the budget of the municipalities, which implies a limitation of the powers. Therefore, many of those who have supported a reinforcement of local democracy, have also defended a decentralized federal State. In this sense, there is a correlation between those who have vote for this new kind of parties in the municipal elections and those who claim a decentralized Federal State. In the three surveys analyzed above, it can be observed that the management of the respective City Councils obtains a better score than those corresponding to each Autonomous Community and the Spanish Government. At the same time, the supporters of Podemos in the general elections, which is the “father party” of these local parties, prefer a greater decentralization (41.7% counting only the voters of Unidos Podemos).
So, citizens aren’t stimulated to participate due to the lack of majorities and the limited competences of the municipalities. The third reason we have to consider is that people don’t have a participatory culture, since they are used to representative democracy. Related to this, we have to rethink if the several proposals of citizens can be connected with their potential beneficiary groups throughout those online platforms in order to be promoted.
The three previous points suppose a limitation of the exercise of the local government, as not only they cannot carry out all their purposes but also citizens aren’t encouraged enough to participate. Due to this, the result of these so-called “parties of the change” has been only a partial success.
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 There are no surveys on all City Councils, so the information available is limited.
 SONMERCA SL.”BARÒMETRE MUNICIPAL D’opinió CIUTADANA”. 2017. Valencia.Es. http://www.valencia.es/ayuntamiento/webs/estadistica/Barometro/Presentacion1.pdf
 Maroto, Voro. 2013. “ENCUESTA (ODEC): El PP Perdería El Gobierno Valenciano Incluso Con El Apoyo De Upyd”. Eldiario.Es. http://www.eldiario.es/cv/PP-gobierno-valenciano-incluso- UPyD_0_194231380.html
 Dephimática SL.”Encuesta De Calidad De Vida Y Satisfacción Con Los Servicios Públicos De La Ciudad De Madrid 2016″. 2016. Madrid.Es. http://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/UDCMedios/noticias/2017/05Mayo/11Jueves/Notasp rensa/Encuesta%20calidad%20de%20vida/ficheros/Encuesta-Calidad-Vida-Ayto-Madrid-2016.pdf.; País, METROSCOPIA. 2017. “Situación Política En Madrid”. EL PAÍS. https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/05/11/media/1494526571_732731.html
 Gesop S.L “Baròmetre Semestral De Barcelona”. 2017. Ajuntament.Barcelona.Cat. http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/premsa/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/r17009_Bar%C3%B2metre_Juny_Evoluci%C3%B3.pdf
 Decide Madrid-Presupuestos Participativos. 2017. Decide.Madrid.Es. https://decide.madrid.es/presupuestos-participativos-estadisticas
 Propuestas De Inversión En Valencia. 2016. Decidimvlc. https://decidimvlc.valencia.es/presupuestos-participativos-resultados?by_year=2016
 Agencia Estatal. BOE. “Ley 27/2013, De 27 De Diciembre, De Racionalización Y Sostenibilidad De La Administración Local.”. 2017. Boe.Es. https://www.boe.es/diario_boe/txt.php?id=BOE-A-2013-13756
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