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Spain: Political participation of immigrants in parties' programmes for 2015 national election

Prior to 20 December 2015 national elections, different political parties advocated for increasing voting rights to foreigners. Currently only third country nationals from 12 states that have signed reciprocity agreements with Spain can participate to local elections. In practice, they represent a little less than 10% of immigrants given that according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), from 4.8 million immigrants registered locally, only 463,665 had the right to vote at the 24 May 2015 local and regional elections.

Therefore, the Socialist Party (PSOE), which former prime minister Zapatero signed the reciprocity agreements with 12 (mostly latin american) countries, pledged to allow all foreigners able to prove five years of residency in Spain to vote during local elections. The promise was part of the party’s campaign program for the 20 December 2015 general election. If implemented, the move could add around a million-and-a-half new voters to the local rolls. The emerging left-wing anti-austerity party Podemos also presented a similar campaign pledge in its election manifesto a month prior election.

The importance of political participation through voting rights has not only been discussed at national level, but has also gained importance at the local level. For instance, the 7th edition of the Municipal Immigration Council Award (CMIB) of the city of Barcelona, which gives visibility to entities working towards the integration of immigrant communities in Catalonia, targeted social entities that promoted full citizenship and voting rights for immigrants. In the awards ceremony, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, stated the importance of voting rights in the fight against racist policies while the vice-president of the municipal council of immigration of Barcelona denounced the low presence of foreigners in electoral rolls: “Despite immigrants representing more than 10% of Spanish population, their presence in political parties is less than 1%.”

A recent study that analysed immigrants’ political interest at local and European level in El Raval, Barcelona’s neighbourhood with highest concentration of third country nationals, revealed that although the right to vote is not their first priority, immigrants’ are still eager to have it as it would increases their democratic participation and reduces their invisibility.

Spain is ranked 15 out of the 38 MIPEX countries in terms of Political Participation, with halfway favourable policies. The national situation is described as follows: “Immigrants may be more likely to participate politically by going around official channels rather than through them, given Spain inconsistent policies on voting rights and naturalisation, and its limited consultative bodies, funding and information campaigns”.