Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Spain set for period of political instability following Sunday's General Election

Having begun 2015 with a visit to Athens for the Greek General Election triumph of Syriza I had hoped to end the year by accepting an invitation from Podemos to witness Sunday’s General Election in Spain. Alas the votes close proximity to Christmas meant that for family reasons that was not possible.
But the dramatic news from Madrid meant that for the first time in the post Franco era Spain will not be governed outright by either the Popular Party [Tories] or PSOE [Labour]. The remarkable breakthrough by Podemos [‘We can’] on the left and to a lesser extent by Cuidadanos [‘Citizens’] on the right was widely predicted amid Spain’s prolonged economic collapse and recent high profile corruption scandals. Spain now has a complex and polarised four party system with the PP on 123 seats in Parliament [down 66], PSOE on 90 [down 20], Podemos 69, Cuidadanos 40 and the others on 28.

The result overall was inconclusive however and even if the right-wing bloc manages to pull together a workable coalition [by no means certain] they only just make it across the 176 seat threshold needed in the 350 seat Parliament. Similarly if the left [PSOE + Podemos + the nationalist parties] can construct an agreed programme [again a major doubt] they too only just make a majority. Talk of a ‘Grand Coalition’ between the PP and PSOE, the two biggest parties, is equally unlikely. If no coalition or minority Government can be cobbled together another election must be held within three months. Many Spanish commentators believe this may be inevitable.

The political uncertainty matches the economic picture. The ‘recovery’ claimed by [former] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is extremely weak and largely invisible to millions of poor and under-employed Spaniards. For them Sunday’s result represents more of the same. The same austerity, the same mass unemployment, the same mass emigration by the cream of Spanish youth.
And the unresolved national questions in Catalonia, the Basque country and in Galicia, are unlikely to be settled any time soon either. The views of PSOE and Podemos on the left for example, are at odds with the desire of nationalists in the ‘regions’. Neither party backs self-determination, although Podemos was forced to concede a binding referendum to Catalonia in return for support there. The right wing parties oppose outright independence for Spanish ‘regions’.
Even if any coalition Government can be patched together it will be vulnerable to Parliamentary defeats. The PP lost one third of its seats. PSOE who should have been the main beneficiary of widespread disgust with the PP Government lost a fifth of theirs.

Podemos won 69 seats in a spectacular General Election debut for this new, young party. However a note of caution may be wise as there are many questions now facing them. Given they led the polls in the Spring uppermost perhaps among the questions is why did Spanish voters not move more decisively left? And why did 80% of voters reject Podemos given the severe economic hardship and the blazing indignation at several high profile corruption scandals affecting both the PP and PSOE?

Might a more decisive rejection of Spain’s political duopoly not have been expected? And might it not be premature therefore to write off Spain’s two long established parties just yet with all their money, power and influence?
In January Podemos were ahead in the polls. They were then rocked by a financial scandal of their own. Then there were reports of internal schisms over the party's structures and its decision-making process amid accusations of a move to the right. Podemos will face intense media scrutiny now and immense political pressure from a Spanish state concerned at its rise. All of which will undoubtedly add to the wider political instability in Spanish society.