The Spanish knot

21.10.2016853
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in parliament. Credits: EFE

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in parliament. Credits: EFE

On 23 October, the Federal Committee of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) will decide if the party will support the formation of a new government led by Conservative caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The conservative People’s Party (PP) won 137 seats in a 350-member legislature in repeat elections in June but failed to get a majority to form a government. Their only supporter is Ciudadanos, a small centrist party with 32 seats in parliament. Spanish analyst Antonio Naranjo thinks a coalition government of the PP and Ciudadanos would be the best option for the country. “It is difficult because of the judicial landscape that the PP has left following corruption scandals, but necessary in terms of stability and dialogue with Europe,” he told Europe Insight. But even their combined efforts would not be sufficient to secure a stable government.

This is why everyone is now keeping their eyes on the PSOE, the second biggest party in Spain. Although it lost about 6m votes between the last two elections, it still got 85 seats. But its subsequent poor performance in September regional elections in Galicia and the Basque country intensified differences in the party and forced Secretary General Pedro Sánchez to resign.

However it is not past miseries that now divide the party. For the past few months, the PSOE has not been able to decide whether it would be better to support the government of Mariano Rajoy or to go to the polls for the third time in a year.

The re-elected leader of the PSOE Catalan branch, Miquel Iceta, is vowing to vote against the Conservative government no matter what the leadership in Madrid decides. “If the PSOE abstains now, it will bring back the ghost that has hurt us so much in the past,” he said. By the ‘ghost’, he means the Anti-Austerity (Indignados) movement that brought people to the streets for protest rallies in May 2011 and popularised the slogan “PSOE and PP, they are the same trash”.

According to a recent Metroscopia opinion poll, 49% of Socialist voters think it would be better to stop the People’s Party from forming a government while 47% feel another general election should be avoided and are ready to accept Rajoy’s government. Moreover, 37% of all respondents believe there are few chances of an agreement between the two rivals, compared to 68% a month ago.

The risks for the PSOE, however, are not immediate. Any government’s top priority will be to have the 2017 budget and spending ceilings bills passed, and the issue of spending cuts may quickly destroy either a coalition or the party’s reputation.

On the other hand, new elections would be good for Podemos, a new leftist party: its voters clearly (60%) prefer to vote again and the party could end up being the second biggest party in Spain.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, managing editor of the Spanish newspaper El País, says that the social democrats in the PSOE should be an alternative to the PP, not an opposition to Podemos. “It is in its own interests to support a minority PP government,” he said to Europe Insight. Agustin Baeza, chief of staff of Podemos in the Parliament of Madrid, thinks that Spain needs a new government with a new prime minister “to end spending cuts, to regain confidence in public institutions and to launch the changes this country needs for social welfare of the majority.” In his view, all the potential troubles are even better than the return to power of party that “is now prosecuted for corruption.”

This month businessman Francisco Correa, a key figure in Spain’s most infamous case of political corruption, admitted he paid kickbacks to PP officials in order to win important government contracts.

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