Spain’s parliamentary system features competitive multiparty elections and peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. The rule of law prevails, and civil liberties are generally respected. Although political corruption remains a concern, high-ranking politicians and other powerful figures have been successfully prosecuted. Restrictive legislation adopted in recent years poses a threat to otherwise robust freedoms of expression and assembly, and peaceful separatist movements in some regions represent an ongoing challenge to the country’s constitutional system and territorial integrity.
- Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP) was sworn in as prime minister in October, ending a lengthy impasse that began when the divided parliament was unable to agree on a new government following December 2015 elections, necessitating new elections in June 2016. Rajoy’s new government still lacked a legislative majority.
- Carles Puigdemont of the Catalan separatist party Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) became president of the Catalonia region in January 2016 following regional elections in late 2015. In October, the Catalan parliament voted to hold a referendum on independence in September 2017, despite warnings issued by the Constitutional Court and the Catalonian High Court.
- In September regional elections, the PP won an absolute majority in Galicia, while in the Basque region, the incumbent center-right Basque Nationalist Party secured the presidency with support from the Basque Socialist Party, having outpolled the left-wing separatist party EH Bildu.
Spain lacked a government for most of 2016 after two rounds of parliamentary elections left no single party with a majority. Either the PP or the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) have typically held a majority in recent decades, but the success of two new parties—the left-wing Podemos and center-right Ciudadanos—in the December 2015 elections triggered months of fruitless coalition talks, followed by fresh elections in June 2016. The PP emerged with 137 seats in the 350-seat Chamber of Deputies, followed by PSOE with 85, Podemos with 45, Ciudadanos with 32, and several smaller parties with the remainder.
The deadlock was finally broken in October, when members of PSOE, concerned about the ramifications of continued disarray, decided to abstain from the vote for prime minister, allowing incumbent Mariano Rajoy of PP—who had been serving in a caretaker capacity since the 2015 vote—to take office. A new cabinet was appointed in November. PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez, who opposed the abstentions, resigned his position as general secretary of the party. PSOE was set to choose a new leadership in 2017.
Meanwhile, the separatist government in Catalonia continued to push for a referendum on independence, and elections were held in Galicia and the Basque region in September. Also during 2016, the authorities actively enforced controversial public security legislation that took effect in mid-2015, issuing numerous fines for disrespect of police officers and other offenses. At least one journalist was fined for publishing unauthorized photographs of a police operation. Separately, two puppeteers were charged and briefly detained for allegedly glorifying terrorism and inciting hatred in one of their satirical performances; the case was pending at year’s end. A rap musician and a poet have faced prosecutions on similar charges.
The year featured several ongoing corruption cases, with defendants including politicians, wealthy businessmen, and members of the royal family. The PP was facing a sprawling investigation into an illicit bribes-for-contracts network that involved key political and business figures. The central trial in the case began in October 2016, but the overall probe had nearly 200 official suspects.
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