El sufragio universal, que es en sí mismo una malísima institución política, una institución incompatible con todo ordenado régimen político, y más si ese régimen es el monárquico, el sufragio universal, aun cuando sea verdad (y sobre todo ha de ser verdad), es incompatible a la larga con la propiedad individual, con la desigualdad de las fortunas y con todo lo que no sea un socialismo desatentado y anárquico. El sufragio universal no puede ser más que un instrumento de socialismo o una farsa vil, y, en estos últimos tiempos, es, bajo ese título postrero, como he juzgado conveniente calificarlo. Cualesquiera que sean los peligros y los inconvenientes del sufragio universal, es inútil discutirlo ahora. ¿Quién piensa, quién ha dicho siquiera que, después de que en España se haya votado una Ley de sufragio universal, las opiniones de las muchedumbres, de los pobres, de los que nada tienen estarán representadas en las urnas electorales? ¿Hay alguien que sospeche esto siquiera? ¿A qué, pues, discutir el sufragio universal? Ya he indicado brevemente a qué consecuencias puede llegar ese sufragio. En otras ocasiones lo he discutido; y, si llegara el caso, como simple tema académico, podría discutirlo de nuevo.
Cánovas, 8 de noviembre de 1888
|Cánovas del Castillo|
This is an historical primary source text and, besides it is a political and public text, because it is a speech. .
This speech was pronounced by Cánovas on the 8th November 1888 in Seville during the period of the Restoration, period in which the monarchy had been re-established after the Democratic Sexenio. Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, who was a conservative politician, was the main responsible for restoration and the design of a stable and conservative political system, based on the assumption of some principles by the main parties that accepted monarchy and alternated in power.
The intended audience were the deputies of the Parliament.
The main idea of this text is that Cánovas rejects universal suffrage as political instrument.
I think that the main key word in this speech is “vile farce”, because it is the way, as Cánovas said, he “had judged proper” to describe universal suffrage.
In his speech about universal suffrage Cánovas shows that he is against universal suffrage because it is incompatible with any political regime, with private property and with fortunes’ inequality. Besides, Cánovas said that it is an instrument of socialism and that, even if there was a Universal Suffrage Law, people’s opinions wouldn’t be represented either. When Cánovas gave this speech his party was not in the government and he tried to convince the government in power and the deputies not to approve a Law of Universal Suffrage.
After the Democratic Sexenio, monarchy was re-established and the Bourbons came back to power. Cánovas tried to restore monarchy through a wide consensus, but, Alphonse XII was enthroned violating the law with General Martínez Campos uprising at the end of 1874.
Cánovas was appointed prime minister of the Ministry-Regency, in charge of organizing the political system. Cánovas worked to establish a stable system that avoided the mistakes made in the past, such as preference of the monarch for only one party with exclusion of the opposition from government, constant intervention of the military in politics or the continuous changes in legislation. In this way, a royal order from 1875, established that the army’s role was defending national independence and keeping out from politics.
Cánovas’ desire to respect the law made him call elections to Constituent Cortes in January 1876 with the Sexenio universal suffrage law. The elections were manipulated and Cánovas followers (the alfonsinos), got the majority in both chambers. The draft of the text, approved in June 1876, was written by a group of 39 deputies and it was inspired on conservative liberalism. The monarch was considered to be above the rest of the institution and this Constitution didn’t include any reference to suffrage, but a later law imposed census suffrage.
According to Cánovas, even if universal suffrage was approved, it wouldn’t reflect the opinion of the people, because the manipulation of the elections was one of the pillars of Restoration regime and its objective was not reflecting people’s will, but assuring stability property, order… In that way, the electoral system was based on two parties that could alternate in power.
His model was the British bipartisan system, with two main parties accepting the monarchy and the basic institutions of the State. The Conservative Party was formed around himself and it included former moderates, former members of the Liberal Union and some former Carlists. Its main support came from the big landowners and the upper bourgeoisie. The Liberal Party, formed around Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, included former progressives and, as time went by, it also integrated former members of the Liberal Union, some democrats and conservative republicans. Their main support came from the middle bourgeoisie, small merchants and landowners. Both parties accepted the monarchy, the 1876 constitution, defense of private property and a unitary and centralized State.
As the dynastic parties only represented the interests of a minority of the population, electoral manipulation was the only way to guarantee that they would be elected. The Constitution gave the monarch an arbitrary role in the alternation in power: when the party in the government went through a crisis, the other dynastic party asked the monarch for the decree of dissolution of the Cortes and formed a new government. The new government, without a supporting majority in the parliament, “cooked” the results of the elections. This manipulation had two stages:
With the encasillado (allotting), the minister of Gobernación assigned the deputies who had to be elected in every province, with a majority for his party, and then, his orders were sent to the civil governors, who transmitted the government’s will to the caciques (local political bosses) of every circumscription.
The second stage of the process was called pucherazo (vote- rigging), in which the caciques used all the methods at their reach to assure the votes: they promised favours or jobs, they bought votes, or they manipulated the result in many ways: electoral manipulation was t they included dead people in the electoral roll, moved or hid the ballot boxes..
In this way, the dynastic parties alternated periodically and pacifically in power, depending on their internal stability. The Conservative Party ruled during the first years of the Restoration (1875-1881), most of the times headed by Cánovas. The liberals ruled from 1881 to 1884, but when they started showing signs of disunion, the conservatives came back to power,. But when Alphonse XII died in 1885, the conservatives and liberal reached the conclusion that the liberals had to come back to power in order to avoid a possible destabilization of the system- This agreement was called Pact of El Pardo, and the liberals ruled from 1885 to 1890 (“Long government”).
Besides, during Sagasta’s Long Government, while the liberals were in power, they made several reforms. One of those laws was the Law of Universal Suffrage. When Cánovas gave this speech his party was not in the government and he tried to convince the government in power and the deputies not to pass this law. However, two years later, in 1890, the Law of Universal Suffrage was approved.
Universal suffrage was not compatible with the regime Cánovas had designed and Cánovas’ conservative ideology. His aspiration was a stable liberal system, but this didn’t mean democracy.
When the Law of Universal Suffrage was approved during the Long Government in 1890, which gave the right to vote to all men aged 25 and above, electoral roll increased considerably, But the manipulation of the elections continued, although it became more and more complicated in cites. In that way, for example, in 1893, the Republican Union got 34 deputies, mainly in the big cities. However, the fact that most of the voters lived in rural areas, where the manipulation of the elections conditioned the results, made the republican triumph impossible. Besides, during its government, Maura decided not to intervene in the elections, but the caciques client structure showed that it could work even if the government did not intervene manipulating the results.
Besides, universal suffrage was included in the 1812 and 1869 Constitutions as well.
Finally, in 1931, universal suffrage allowed the victory of the republican parties in the 12th April elections and a democratic system began.