Spain remains without a new government two months after an inconclusive general election. Its plight has been been cited by senior Fine Gael politicians as a warning of the instability facing Ireland unless the current coalition is re-elected. The Spanish situation is certainly unenviable but the parallels with Ireland are not identical.
In Spain, the overall majority of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) has collapsed but it remains the biggest party. It has no obvious allies and its leader, prime minister Mariano Rajoy, has refused to attempt to form a government.
During the interregnum, its already tarnished public image has been further battered with ever-deepening corruption scandals. The Madrid PP leader has resigned, accepting political responsibility for the sorry state of her local organisation, clearly implying that Rajoy should do the same.
The Socialist Party (PSOE), which has alternated in government with the PP for 40 years, also saw its support slashed. Disenchantment with the entire political establishment has fragmented. Whether this represents a healthy revival of active democratic participation by citizens or dangerous paralysis remains to be seen.
PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez is now seeking support to become prime minister in negotiations that appear doomed to failure. His most likely partners are two new parties that have erupted onto the political scene. Each claims to represent the popular demand for democratic renewal but from totally opposed positions. Sánchez would probably also need some support from smaller left-wing groups and Catalan and Basque Nationalist parties.
Podemos ('We can'), the bigger of the new parties, holds the banner for radical left populism. Sánchez could possibly accept its maximalist programme on taxation, mortgage relief and labour relations. But its insistence on supporting Catalan demands for an independence referendum seems to rule out a deal with the PSOE.
The reformist right-wing party Ciudadanos (Citizens) will not partner the PSOE but will consider abstaining to allow Sánchez to become prime minister – though only if he rejects Podemos's main demands. The likely outcome is that Sánchez will fail to be elected in a parliamentary vote early next month and new elections will be called for June – probably with similar results.
It has been pointed out that the Spanish circle could be squared if the PP and PSOE, whose economic policies often converge, could agree to a grand coalition in the national interest.
This is where the comparison with Ireland is most striking though it is perhaps worth pointing out that the ideological and historical differences between Ireland's traditional big parties – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – are much smaller than those between the PP and PSOE.