Can fresh elections in Spain break political paralysis?
A second logjam remains the most likely outcome
Just as Ireland appears on the cusp of forming a government, new elections are expected to be called in Spain on Tuesday, four months after its last national poll produced an unprecedented but paralysing outcome.
Since the early 1980s, Spanish governments have been formed exclusively either by the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE) or the right-wing Partido Popular (PP). Since 2008, the support for both parties has plummeted due to harsh economic policies, coupled with blatant corruption.
Opposition crystallised in two new parties, which reconfigured the political spectrum in last December’s elections. The radical leftist Podemos movement took 69 seats, and the centre-right Ciudadanos took 40. This left the outgoing PP government, led by Mariano Rajoy, with only 123 seats, and the PSOE, led by Pedro Sánchez, with just 90. The two establishment parties took very different approaches to this novel four-way split.
Rajoy stood aloof from real negotiations. His vague proposal for a coalition with Ciudadanos and the PSOE lacked the one element that might have made it attractive: his own resignation as a leader unacceptable to any other party. This stance confirms his reputation as a conviction politician, or as an inflexibly arrogant one. It seems unlikely to win any significant gains in the elections on June 26th.
Sánchez, meanwhile, fell over backwards to accommodate agreements with both Ciudadanos and Podemos. Since both of these parties had made it clear neither would enter a coalition including the other, his efforts were probably doomed to failure. Again, his strategy can be read two ways, as the desperation of a weak leader, or as an admirable willingness to compromise.
Ciudadanos will get some credit for a clear negotiating position, and not ditching principles to rush into government at the first opportunity. It will benefit from deepening national disenchantment with Rajoy. If the latter were forced to resign after a second poor performance, and Ciudadanos gained enough seats, a workable coalition with the PP might emerge.
Podemos played a racier game, apparently reneging in public on deals it had struck with the PSOE in private. But it has used the intervening time well to build a broader alliance of the harder left. Polls show this alliance could overtake the PSOE as the second party in Spain.
However, Podemos may be damaged by renewed claims that it receives funding from authoritarian leftists in Venezuela. In any case, whether the new movement could govern with the Socialists, given the numbers, and not then lose credibility with its radical base, remains to be seen. A second logjam remains the most likely outcome, a disturbing prospect at a time of continuing existential and financial crisis for the Spanish state.