Martyn Richard Jones
Glasgow, 1st May 2016
If we exclude the financial sector, industry and the unions, there are four major political groups in Spanish politics with representation in the national parliament in Madrid. At the top of the list is the Partido Popular (Popular Party), in second place comes the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party), in third place Podemos (literally ‘We can’) and in fourth place, we have Ciudadanos (simply translated as ‘Citizens’)
In December of 2015, Spain held general elections, the twelfth democratic general elections celebrated in Spain since the end of the brutal, authoritarian and erstwhile Nazi-sympathising dictatorship of Franco.
The electoral results were inconclusive. No one party had a clear and irrevocable mandate to lead the union. Remember, Spain is a union of many communities and nations, such as Euskadi (the Basque Country – including parts of France), the Comunitat Valenciana (the Valencian Community) and Andalucía (Andalusia).
In the New Year, there being no overall majority, the largest national parties were condemned to negotiate with other political formations in order to try to form a stable government. These rounds of negotiations were initiated by Spain’s King and Head of State, Felipe VI.
In common with other constitutional democracies, when there is not an overall and clear electoral majority, a certain time is allowed in order for all the parties to come to an agreement over potential configurations of a workable government.
So far, the political negotiations have been unsuccessful. So, it is l quite possible – barring constitutional miracles – that new elections will be held in June. Something that very few want. At least, publicly.
At the moment there are four or five major parties in the mix, depending on whether the importance of the party is measured by seats in parliament or by total number of votes received.
The incumbent Popular Party (a conservative formation that includes liberals and other elements on the right), the traditional alternative social-democratic PSOE, the much smaller United Left (mainly communists, but also including other groups such as ecologists – although far from all ecologists support this formation), and two really new parties that have emerged on the political scene: Ciudadanos and Podemos.
Ciudadanos, is a modern centre to centre-right party, which has been greatly influenced by the prestigious economist Luis Garicano. They are supported by those who seek a modern, democratic and relatively incorrupt party that supports business, families and the economy and who will not support any move to split the Spanish state.
Podemos, is a modern, young and broad-umbrella party of practical and strategic human rights advocates. Ideologically they promote actions and policies that could reasonably be supportable by a range of people from, and for example, the Christian democratic right to the Marxist leaning left. Simply stated, they have wide appeal.
The incumbent governing party in Spain, the conservative Popular Party, is headed by the easy-going Galician politician Mariano Rajoy, who unsurprisingly did not attempt to create an alliance with any other party in Congress. Indeed the position of the PP is crystal clear and simple. Either they are to be allowed to govern as they wish, including the maintenance of all austerity measures, or new elections would have to be called. PP leadership believes that that the largest opposition party – in this moment the PSOE –should act responsibly and allow the PP to govern, virtually unhindered.
It was a simple ‘support us or be against us’ tactic. So, at this time, there are really no significant deals to be had between the ruling PP (in functions) and the other national parties in the Spanish parliament.
In terms of ideology and of electoral support, the position of the Popular Party is respectable, if not particularly helpful. The Popular Party garnered over seven million votes in the 2015 elections in – more votes than any other party. The PP leadership believe that they are doing the best they can in order to achieve the desired outcomes, and they don’t contemplate any watering down of their economic and geo-political policies. An intransigent but fair position given their political ideology.
Now, whilst I think that the position of the Popular Party is legitimate and respectable, in political terms, it also runs against the grain of politics as being ‘the art of the possible’. A facet they actually share with the PSOE who came second in the list of parties with most votes (around five and a half million, at the last count).
The centre and left of centre PSOE, is headed by their exceptionally ambitious and energetic leader Pedro Sánchez, and is controlled more by the power projection of their regional Barons, than by their democratic credentials and process. This puts Sanchez into an unenviable situation of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”.
In terms of political strategy, the PSOE ‘poisoned the well’ of agreement from the get go, and I am still not sure if this was the result of a strategic error or out of sheer folly provoked by the egotistical impositions of the Barons and the party old guard. Their natural ally was Podemos, even though Podemos, unlike PSOE, is significantly more transversal. But, at the outset pf negotiations, the PSOE significantly alienated Podemos and any potential agreement with the leadership of Podemos, by first aligning with the centre-right formation of Citizens., who in turn, and to add insult to injury, declared that no government supported by Citizens could include Podemos.
As mentioned previously, Podemos is transversal (in that’s objectives are ideologically inclusive, plural and egalitarian, and its policies and programmes site comfortably within the bounds of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Podemos crosses almost all democratic, party, humanistic and ideological boundaries as if they didn’t pose an issue – hence the use of the label transversal. Whereas Ciudadanos is more oriented towards a reformist-capitalist ideology albeit with a more substantially modern and humanist side of neo-liberalism than the PP. Citizens also supports most elements of the UDHR. However, this doesn’t stop certain people from believing that Podemos is ostensibly far-left or that Ciudadanos is no different from the Popular Party. Beliefs, sentiments or published opinions that are either deliberately or mistakenly erroneous. Podemos is neither PSOE (social democracy) nor IU (communism). Ciudadanos is not a party of dictatorial tics or of wide-spread corruption and fraud, it is a modern democratic-liberal party – more Adolfo Suarez than Manuel Fraga.
So, million Euro question. What will be the outcome of the general election rerun?
In percentage terms I see the PP vote staying pretty much the same as it was in December. Conservatives are not known for their volatility when it comes to voting. There may be a slight increase in the votes for Citizens, and the support for the PSOE will quite likely drop. Potentially, the attraction of Podemos could increase, if they play their cards right in terms of territorial alliances with IU and others. Partnering with the ecologists of Equo at the national level made a lot of sense. Partnering with IU at the national level would be close to suicidal. It would potentially irritate the regional supporters of Podemos, and may lead to a significant decrease in overall support, in part because in order to have an alliance between IU and Podemos, either Podemos has to give up ground on its transversal nature or IU has to give up any insistence on the pact being a left-wing alliance. Neither of which seem to be entirely satisfactory options.
What about outcomes? What will be the result of the general election rerun?
All the parties can reasonably claim to have done good things for Spain and the Spanish, and it’s certainly true. But that is no reason to keep things as they are, because as well as the good things, there has also been a lot of bad. Too much so that it has structurally compromised many democratic organisations and government institutions in Spain.
Personally I hope that Podemos will have enough seats to be able to enter into the next government of Spain. I think they are relevant and important, because whilst their partners may be concentrating on the big state questions of the day, such as relations with the USA and the promotion of Spain in the world or selling the next big high-speed railway to China, Podemos could focus on more mundane and everyday tasks such as combatting poverty, helping the senior citizens, stopping people being thrown out onto the streets, addressing unemployment amongst the young and also amongst experienced-professionals. Podemos could tackle issues with health care and education, marginalisation, and the human rights of people and groups.
I want to see Podemos win. Not because they are left or right, or whatever, but because I see them as being honest, austere and intelligent people with sound principles, humanistic values and new and realisable proposals for a better way of doing politics, and above all, they epitomise, for me, the vision of a decent society made by all.
A win for Podemos won’t make me any richer, but it will be a win for decency and the greater good. And in my book, that’s something worth fighting for.
4/9/2016 – Changed “Spain’s head of State, Felipe VI.” to “Spain’s King and Head of State, Felipe VI.”