Did we get what we deserve?

Politicians have always been criticized and mocked. Most probably, bearing this is part of their duty. That criticism has greatly increased because of the crisis. Politicians (and bankers) are blamed for most of the damage that has been done. Especially in Spain. If it were true that, at least in a democracy, every country gets the rulers it deserves, then most Spaniards would wonder what they have done to get such awful politicians?

After all, in a democracy, people get a change to decide who will get a seat in Parliament, the legislative body and thus one of the three powers — alongside the executive and the judiciary branch. So one could say that if Spain has such bad people in government, then perhaps it is, at least to some extent, Spaniards’ own fault.

And let’s not forget that those in Parliament, in Government, in political parties, are not from another planet. They’re people from among us — perhaps our relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, etc. They’re not made of another kind of flesh.

It’s not my intention, here, to mock Spaniards or to somehow blame them for having chosen such a bunch of useless people to run the country. In most occasions, there are no better alternatives, and one is forced to vote not for the best but for the least bad. Looking at the candidates, one is strongly tempted to stay at home when an election comes. I speak from experience.

The really interesting question is, as I see it, how the hell have those fools reached such high positions in politics?

Those who belonged to political parties (or unions), several decades ago, were brave people. They faced being put into jail (and to suffer torture at the hands of the police) for a long period of time. Those were the days of Franco’s dictatorship. Nearly all of them were people who had a job, a family. People who knew the real world. People who were in touch with the ordinary population, because they were a part of it themselves. So those who say that the politicians who turned Spain from a dictatorship into a more or less democratic country were far better than those from our days are quite right. Of course not all of past politicians were so good, or better than those of today. But, in overall, they were. At least, they were not much worse than the average population of the country.

But they made some mistakes, quite serious mistakes. First: Political parties were granted too much power. Or to say it in a better way: They turned into organizations with little internal democracy, where being loyal to the leaders and not arguing with them was more valued than merit and ableness. Second (and closely related to the first one): The electoral system. Third: Funding political parties and local authorities — the schemes they devised, and passed, could only lead to the corruption scandals that emerge from time to time — «Filesa», «Naseiro», «Pallerols», «Palau de la Música» and the last and perhaps biggest one: «Gürtel» — of which «Bárcenas» is just a part.

The electoral system is worth to explain in more depth. In the United Kingdom, there are 650 seats in the House of Commons, and 650 constituencies in the country. So each constituency has one and only one seat in Parliament, and the candidate who gets more votes in the election gets the seat. Period. In Spain, the lower house (Congreso de los Diputados) has 350 seats, but the country has much fewer constituencies: one per each province (50 in total) plus the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Each constituency is assigned an amount of seats according to its population. My constituency, for example (the province of Tarragona), had 6 seats in the last election, while the province of Barcelona had 31.

Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages. The British system is criticized because, they say, it leads to bipartism. The Spanish system is more proportional, yes. But I would prefer the British. The first duty of a Parliament, I think, is to represent the people. It’s quite dangerous when people believe that those in Parliament have no relationship at all with them. Or when a Parliament is utterly out of touch with the people.

The British system, with all its defects, is better in this respect, I think. Each MP owns his or her seat to a single constituency: that MP is the one who got the most votes. That constituency voted for him, and now he represents all people in it. People in the constituency know him, and can address him questions, suggestions and make complaints. MPs belong to a political party, for sure, but they also have an allegiance to their constituency. They cannot afford to alienate them, for this could risk their seat. A political party must be careful not to force its MPs too much. And when choosing which candidate for each constituency, a party must pay some attention to the man or woman it chooses. Let’s not forget, for example, that the Iron Lady had to resign the leadership of the Conservative Party (and thus resign from being Prime Minister) because her own MPs no longer supported her. It seems that British political leaders, sometimes, must endure seeing some of their own MPs voting against them.

This does not happen in Spain. No Spanish political leader has to be afraid of his own MPs. Let’s remember that each constituency has several seats. So according to the votes received, each party (who gets at least 5% of the votes in that constituency) gets a number of seats. Which ones? If a party gets, say, three seats in a specific constituency, then the first three candidates in the list gets a seat. The rest don’t. And who makes the list? Easy: the leaders of each party. So if you want to become an MP, you must be in good terms with the leaders of your party. If so, you have a change that you’ll be in that list, and not in the bottom. If not… with luck, perhaps you’ll be the last one — the one that never gets a seat, because it is virtually impossible for a party to get all the seats in a constituency. Voters don’t know their MPs. MPs don’t feel they belong to any constituency. They’re just pawns of their parties.

This may explain how certain former Spanish ministers (and some primer minister I would even say) reached their positions. People who joined their political party at a young age, and have spent all their life in it. People who never got a job in the private sector. People whose skills are at being sycophants, always saying «yes» to their masters. People who, in the private sector, would reach perhaps not even middle management positions.

So the combination of how Spanish political parties work and how the electoral system works is, to some extent, the cause of the poor quality politicians Spain must endure. Is this what Spain deserves? Well, it’s clear that the very best of Spaniards have little incentives to join a political party or to enter politics, even without joining a party. So I would conclude that a country has no better politicians than it deserves — worse perhaps, but not better.

The quality of politicians, MPs and those in government is of the utmost importance. Lots of things depend on them. That should not be underestimated. And we should better try to do our best to have the very best of the country in those positions.