Foreign voters and the 2011 local elections

Fecha Publicación: 
20 Febrero 2011

Non-Spanish voters and candidates are set to play a pivotal role in this year's local elections

Sur in English, 20 | 02 | 2011 - Noticia

As the 101 municipalities in the province of Malaga gear up for the local elections on Sunday 22nd May, few observers could have failed to notice the increased stirrings of the various political parties in any town or village recently.

Ever since the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, of the PSOE (socialist party) and the leader of Partido Popular (PP), Spain’s main opposition party, Mariano Rajoy, gave their Start of Year speeches in January, the momentum has been building in Town Halls throughout the land.

Each local government, which is required by Spanish law to meet in full at least once every three months, consists of councillors who are elected by a public ballot every four years. The Mayor is chosen from the winning party’s candidates by other councillors after the outcome of the elections has been announced. It is usually the case that the Mayor will be the person who topped the victorious party’s list of candidates on the ballot tickets. Members of the various town councils will then form the provincial government, or the ‘Diputación Provincial’.

“When you come to vote you’ll see a list of candidates from each party which is represented in your town. The number of candidates will depend on the type of election it is and the size of the constituency to be represented,” explains Miguel Machuca, a Seville-based political analyst.

“The candidates from each party will be numbered, or ‘weighted’ in effect, on the ballot list, by the party’s provincial committee.

“Of course, this committee will decide who has the more weight, value or credibility – usually based on their experience and knowledge of the party, the various political institutions and their voter appeal – and list them accordingly on the ticket,” he says.


Clearly, each political party’s provincial governing committee, which is responsible for the listing of candidates, needs to “make sound representations of the population living in the municipality” in order to be successful at the elections.

It is perhaps unsurprising then to see an increasing number of foreign nationals appearing on the electoral lists. The latest national statistics show that despite an overall drop in the number of number of foreigners coming to live here, the ones who do are showing a greater desire to enrol themselves on municipal registers, meaning they can vote in the local elections.

“In some municipalities on the Costa del Sol and in the Axarquía region, foreigners – mainly Britons, Germans, Scandinavians, Eastern Europeans and South Americans – actually outnumber Spanish nationals.

“Therefore, in these areas, it is obviously in the parties’ best interests to have foreign candidates on the list as they then, overall as a party, stand a better chance of winning,” says Machuca. “They want to tap into this previously ignored set of potential voters.

“Foreign candidates will be numbered on their party’s list by their respective provincial committees, using the same criteria of ‘What can they bring to the party?’ ‘How much experience have they got?’ and ‘Will people vote for them, thereby increasing our chance of victory?’

“In such towns as Nerja, Marbella, Torremolinos, Coín or Fuengirola, a party would be foolish not to have a foreign national in their ranks,” asserts Machuca. “Gaining the support of foreign voters could ultimately mean the difference between winning and losing.

“Whereas Spanish people’s political beliefs have been formed as the result of years, if not decades, of family, peers and other external influences, foreign residents often have little previous knowledge of Spanish politics, and some see them as ‘fresh meat’ that will not have pre-determined ideas of how they should vote,” says the independent political commentator.

With this in mind, all the major political parties are chasing the “crucial foreign vote” more than ever.

Estefanía Martín Palop from Malaga’s PSOE committee says it is “essential that foreigners vote” in the forthcoming elections. “We’ve been speaking with expatriate clubs and associations, which have been a vital link with the foreign community, to explain our policies. Many have shown an interest in joining the PSOE.”

Manuel Marmolejo, the Partido Popular in Malaga’s vice secretary, says his party has carried out similar initiatives to target registered foreigners. “We have published a series of informative newsletters in several languages although primarily in English,” he confirms.

Looking to the future

Miguel Machuca believes that foreign residents will have an increasingly pivotal role in elections. “They’re going to be a staple on the political scene from now on. Over the last few years there are more and more foreign candidates and more canvassing for the foreign vote, and this trend looks set not only to continue but develop in the years to come. Malaga province’s foreign residents need to be heard and appropriately represented,” he affirms.


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