Unlike most of its European partners, Spain has never had a coalition government since democracy was restored in 1977. The most recent example dates back to 1936: Largo Caballero’s government. It is a flimsy record that does not invite optimism when it comes to studying the situation of a country where dialogue has been a struggle historically —and not merely in the political sphere. The recent elections called by the PSOE after it failed to pass the budget have led to a greater fragmentation of the Spanish legislature and while the parties on the right have lined up to form a clear bloc, on the left the PSOE was reluctant to follow suit with Unidas Podemos (UP).
Ciudadanos’ drift to the right and its adherence to the most rancid form of Spanish nationalism has caused not just an implosion within the party, but has also upset their financial backers and opened the eyes of many Spanish commentators who had bought into the hollow liberal rhetoric of Albert Rivera’s party. The pacts between the PP and Vox have shaped a right-wing bloc that will cannibalise itself when we next go to the polls. Ciudadanos have made it clear that they do not wish to be kingmaker, but top dog.
Meanwhile PM Pedro Sánchez spoke of “cooperation” rather than a coalition, as he dreamt of a Portuguese-style government —where the socialist party governs by itself, but with the parliamentary support of two other left-wing parties— encouraged by his ample self-confidence and the fact that he was able to survive for eleven months with a meagre 84 seats in parliament after removing PM Rajoy from office by means of a no-confidence vote. The disagreement between Sánchez and UP leader Pablo Iglesias was the big issue all last week until Friday, when Iglesias finally announced that he did not seek a cabinet appointment for himself, thus averting UP’s collective suicide, as well as his own: in an uncertain snap election, left-leaning voters might have punished them for their failure to form a constructive government alliance on the left that would have kept the three parties on the right in check.
Last Monday Pedro Sánchez upped the ante by raising the key issue that has been gripping him: “Pablo Iglesias speaks of political prisoners and what I actually need is a deputy PM that trusts and stands by Spanish democracy”. PM Sánchez is well aware of the fact that during his term he will have to handle the consequences of the verdict of the trial against the Catalan leaders and there is no doubt that the mercury will rise again once we have a ruling, although we can’t anticipate to what extent. It will be another day of reckoning for everyone, particularly for Sánchez, who has been put on the spot by the right and elements within his own party. The Catalan socialists are measuring their every word, waiting with bated breath to learn about Sánchez’s intentions.
This became apparent in ARA’s Saturday interview with L’Hospitalet mayor Núria Marín, the newly-elected socialist president of the Barcelona regional authority, In our interview she made it clear that her party’s survival instinct prescribes a “one-step-at-a-time” approach whilst building bridges that avert sectarianism. Meanwhile, we are waiting for a verdict that hopefully will not prompt a complete breakdown between the political parties in Catalonia. If the court’s ruling is a nuclear bomb, there will be a new moment of truth when the PSC might possibly joint the spirit of October 3 or even October 1, when Marín got the Spanish police out of the polling stations (1). Despite the attempts to delay the decisions, a day will come when a response to the verdict is needed. This will be led by either the political parties or it will be left for the people to handle —and the people might walk all over the parties once again. An open discussion about an official pardon is necessary, if we expect to do better than we have done in recent years.
At the moment talks are underway between the PSOE and UP to establish whether Podemos’ weight in the new cabinet will be determined by their share of the popular vote or their number of seats in parliament —which would get them between 3 and 5 ministerial appointments—, as well as the internal structure of the Spanish government, the ministries and their policies. Their gaping differences on Catalonia, which are key at the moment, are less critical now that Pablo Iglesias has announced he is not expecting a cabinet job. Yet there remain strategic disagreements on the economy, taxation and the labour market.
On Monday afternoon, PM hopeful Pedro Sánchez will unveil his policies. And on Thursday he will presumably be voted in thanks to UP’s support and, among others, ERC’s abstention. With a stable government, the “new” resident of the La Moncloa palace must pave the way for a dialogue with Catalonia, but first he will need to handle the shock of a verdict that might send the country back to square one as those who support dialogue are overcome not by courage, but by recklessness or self-deceit.
(1) L’Hospitalet mayor Núria Marín opposes Catalan independence, but is supposed to have worked behind the scenes to prevent Spanish police violence at the polling stations in L’Hospitalet on the day of the self-determination referendum (1 October 2017).