Back in high school, my bearded history teacher asked the class which Spanish citizens are not permitted to vote. Kids as we were, we immediately thought of adults who didn’t possess their full mental faculties, or convicts serving time in prison for major crimes.
We were all wrong.
Our teacher explained to us that in Spain, every adult has the right to vote, and that this right could only be withdrawn from an individual via court order.
Until this year.
The two main Spanish parties — who currently hold 323 out of 350 votes in the parliament — recently agreed on something: that Spanish expats will no longer be able to vote in local, regional, nor general elections. One of the basic and most fundamental rights of every citizen, gone. Democracy just for some.
Let’s break it down into parts.
The “Historical Memory Law” was introduced to compensate the Republicans who fought in the Spanish Civil war and who suffered reprisals from the dictatorial Franco regime, as well as their families. You can check the details in the Wikipedia.
One of the things this law introduced was endowing the descendants of exiled Republicans with the right to apply for Spanish nationality — applications which would be automatically granted. In the coming years it is expected that there will about 300 000 new Spanish citizens, many of whom have never even set foot in Spain.
Besides, and also related to the Civil War exiled Spanish citizens, there was a problem in some little villages on the north of Spain. In these villages the Civil War exiled vote could actually decide a local election. In fact, there were reports of electoral rigging using the votes of already-deceased exiles (since the Spanish embassies never received any official notice of death for these people they were never removed from the census, and thus were still considered valid “voters” while in fact being scam votes).
So there are two problems: a problem that the law introduced and didn’t prevent, and this local problem.
How the government wants to solve these problems
Instead of solving the local problem locally in these mentioned villages, and instead of preventing the problem introduced by the Historic Memory Law by restricting the ability to vote of the new Spanish citizens (only granting the right if they moved to and spend time in Spain) they (the government and opposition) decided to withdraw the right to vote from 1.3 million Spanish expats.
Why is this so bad
What they are doing is turning a local problem into a national (and even international) problem. What they are doing is turning their lack of foresight into something as outrageous as removing a fundamental right from the citizens they are sworn to protect.
The right to vote was introduced gradually. First for rich people. Then, it was expanded to every man who knew how to read and write. Afterwards to women. Finally to every adult, even the illiterate. Some countries have restrictions like those mentioned at the top of this article, but not Spain.
The withdrawal of this core democratic right that expats will be stripped of three degrees.
Expat can no longer vote in local, regional, nor national elections for the Spanish parliament.
Local elections should be something that is regulated throughout the European Union. If we have free movement of workers within the Union, a European directive should be created to transfer in an effective way the right to vote from city to city no matter which country the European person is living on. Nothing like this should be unilaterally decided and set by a single Government of the Union.
Here I can understand why it makes sense to withdraw this kind of vote: if you don’t live in a city, town, or village, you wouldn’t be exposed to the consequences of your vote. Besides, it would be difficult to have an informed decision on who to vote, considering that expats would not be familiar with the parties’ agendas at the local level. Instead of removing the vote, it should be effectively transfered, though.
A similarity can be drawn here with regional elections, but it is definitely more complicated. Spain is divided into Autonomous Regions. This kind of organization is a trade-off between a centralized Spain and a decentralized one. The powers of each region are negotiated with the State.
People in Spain have strong feelings for their particular region. Each of them has its own culture, heritage, and many even have their own language. It is common for a Spanish person abroad to say they are Spanish, but from a certain region, and we are proud of it!
These regional governments, while negotiating with the state also perform international branding campaigns. This is something at the regional-level that all citizens should have the right to vote for.
The final, and most outrageous of all, is the removal of the right to vote in national general elections. Expats will no longer be able to decide which government represents them. The national government has a direct impact in the lives of the expats, as their actions will be the business cards of the Spanish people abroad. Their decisions can build or break relations with other countries. Their resolutions are every Spanish person’s business, not just the ones who live in Spain. Not everyone may know a Spaniard, but they will know for sure the polemic decisions of Spain’s government. If their actions influence the ideas foreigners have about Spanish people, and we don’t have the right to influence our own government, we’re doubly-defenseless to the opinions they have about us.
The Spanish government and the opposition are currently “studying” the final text, but it is already quite clear that both parties intend to vote yes on this amendment. Instead of solving the problems when they were still small or could have been easily prevented, they have created a much bigger and more dangerous problem. For the very first time Spanish politicians, and not a court, will withdraw the right to vote from their citizens — all 1.3 million of them.
What to do?
People who know me are aware that I am not much of a complainer. I prefer doing over talking; actions toward solutions and not whining.
So, for my first action, I would like to let my international friends know all about this. I want them to tell even more people. You can already find many Spanish expat bloggers writing about this in Spanish, but I feel we need the attention of the international community to act together with us. Everyone who believe that basic democratic rights should be preserved and never reduced.
Every (non-Spanish) person I mention this topic to have no idea that the Spanish government and opposition are doing this.
More people need to be made aware of this!
We must spread the word together, and then hopefully the European Union will tell Spain loud and clear: you shall not withdraw the right to vote from your citizens.
If you agree that the basic right of democracy should not be withdrawn from Spanish expat citizens, please help us. Copy this text in your blog. Link to it. Record it on audio and share it. File a complaint with the European Parliament (if someone reading this knows the specific procedure to do this, please share it in the comments). Write your opinion about this in your own blog. The Spanish people need your help. I am asking for your support.
You can also share your opinion in audio so your voice is heard. Click on the widget below to send it to us.
Also you can show your support by joining the Facebook group Support the Spanish Expats’ right to vote.