Political stalemate continues to reign in Spain

The most likely outcome remains new elections in June – and no major changes in the results

 

It is indicative of the uncertain and rapidly changing state of European politics that post-election paralysis is becoming commonplace. Many established EU parties have lost a great deal of their credibility due to the economic crisis. But they have not weakened sufficiently to create space for credible alternative governments from the right or the radical left.

In Spain, the agony seems endless. Since late December, the country has struggled unsuccessfully to form a government after inconclusive elections. Spanish politics had been dominated for almost 40 years by a two-party system, alternating between the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE) and the rightwing Partido Popular (PP), with the latter in power since 2011.

The pain inflicted by both parties in their management of the economic crisis, and widespread disgust at corruption across the political establishment, led to the emergence of two brand-new parties that broke the mould in last December’s poll.

The PP and PSOE both fell far short of a parliamentary majority (176 seats). Podemos (‘We Can’), a broad grassroots anti-capitalist movement, took 69 seats, and Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’), a centre-right anti-corruption party, took 40.

The economic policies of the PP and PSOE, like those of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have differed very little since 2008. But the cultural hostility between these parties, rooted in a more recent and much bloodier civil war than our own, led predictably to the still-birth of any moves towards a grand coalition between them.

The PP acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, took the unprecedented step of rejecting the King of Spain’s invitation to him, as leader of the largest party, to attempt to form a government. He has been content to allow the inexperienced PSOE leader, Pedro Sánchez, flounder in his efforts to cobble together an unlikely majority with Podemos and Ciudadanos.

The maximalist demands made by Podemos, coupled with its internal divisions, have finally sunk any hope of its alliance with the Socialists this week. A PSOE spokesman has said that new elections, which must be called by the end of this month if no government is formed, are now inevitable. But this may not be the case. Ciudadanos has ruled out coalescing with the PSOE if Podemos were a partner, and with the PP under the leadership of Rajoy. With Podemos out of the picture, Ciudadanos could now be the lynch-pin of an unprecedented coalition between PP and PSOE, if Rajoy resigns. There are signs that the PP may replace him but he will not go easily.

Ironically, Rajoy probably hopes that Sánchez, whom he despises, may himself be replaced. But a new PSOE leader appears unlikely to take a warmer view of the prime minister. The most likely outcome remains new elections in June – and no major changes in the results.

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