If the consolidation of democracy consists mainly in a process of 'freezing-adaptation of modes of peaceful conflict-resolution', 1 we may tend to expect major problems produced by the proliferation of parties at the subnational level: fragmentation of political forces, increased conflictiveness, eventually polarization between them within the regional ambit, which could translate into a major fragmentation and even segmentation of the national party system. Such a party system, divided by centre-periphery cleavages, might also lead to instability and a lack of legitimacy of a new democracy. 2
However, if democratic consolidation, rather, is primarily understood as a process of structuration of a variety of 'partial regimes'-'networks of power among interdependent or hierarchically ordered institutions'-which promote 'satisfactory participation', 'accountability to citizen preferences', and 'responsiveness of authorities to individuals and groups', 3 we will rather welcome a more complex, territorial, and political pluralism 'in order to reinforce commitment to the regional realities and to the democratic system'. 4
Hence there may be conditions under which subnational parties may not only articulate the differentiated demands of regionally based electorates, but also channel their participatory claims, safeguard the accountability and responsiveness of government towards them, and mobilize regional support for the regime. In certain cases centre-periphery conflict may become polarized, lead to regionally based anti-regime opposition, and threaten the legitimacy of a new democratic regime, putting its very survival into question.
Spain, more than any other country in western Europe, and especially in southern Europe, has known these threats since the massive irruption of regional parties in the 1977, and particularly since the 1979 elections. The Spanish party system resembles other systems with respect to the role of class and religious divisions. But