Spain mired in political stasis

Repeated failures of politicians to elect a new government has exacerbated a crisis of confidence

The title of the book just published by acting Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos, España Amenazada ('Endangered Spain'), might be appropriately applied to the current state of the country in several respects. But, in the distorted mirror of contemporary Spanish politics, the book – launched last week by acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy – is a celebration of the "rescue" of the economy from the financial crisis by their party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP).

Most Spaniards probably feel they have little to celebrate, and remember that the PP’s “rescue” imposed a grievous price in job losses and home evictions, just when senior party members were getting embroiled in corruption scandals.

Meanwhile, the repeated failures of Spanish politicians to elect a new government, after two deadlocked elections over nine months, has exacerbated a crisis of confidence in the political system. Ironically, it is the response of the Spanish electorate to this that has produced a paralysis that, in turn, further threatens the system.

The emergence of two new parties expressing widespread discontent, the radical left Podemos and the reformist centre-right Ciudadanos, has broken the mould of the established system dominated by the PP and the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE).

But the newcomers’ breakthrough has not displaced the older parties which remain the largest in parliament. Yet the PP and PSOE are now too weak to form governments on their own, while neither will stand aside to let the other lead a minority administration.

Ciudadanos has twice tried to break this logjam, first negotiating with the PSOE in March, and then by offering an anti-corruption pact to the PP last month, dropping an earlier condition that Rajoy must stand aside.

However, the PP and Ciudadanos did not have the numbers to win the subsequent parliamentary vote, raising the spectre of a third election within 12 months. This is now technically due to take place on Christmas Day – though probably a week earlier – if no government is formed by October 31st.

With Madrid mired in stasis, Catalonia's drive to leave Spain – an appalling vista for the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos – continues to gather momentum. The outcomes of next Sunday's polls in Galicia and the Basque Country offer a very slim hope of extra support for the PP, especially from conservative Basque nationalists, but even then the numbers are unlikely to add up.

Oddly, opinion polls show no reward to Ciudadanos for its flexible efforts to assist forming a government. More strangely still, support for the stone-walling Rajoy continues to rise, despite his complacency towards PP corruption scandals. The quintessentially dull Rajoy has one thing in common with Donald Trump: what enrages his opponents appears to galvanise his base.