The International Writers Magazine:From our Spanish Correspondent
The Moment of Truth in Spain
A 'Popular Front' looms to shake the democratic foundations of Spain
In last month’s essay I wrote about the complex result of the Spanish General Elections and the incredible outcome that has introduced a completely new political scenario not seen since the 1930s of the II Republic. We now have four political parties as front runners. None hold sufficient votes to form a government. They consist of a right wing conservative party (PP), a left wing socialist (PSOE), a new breed of communists (Podemos) and another new central, ‘not quite sure what side’ candidate (Ciudadans). The rest of the successful, yet minority parties to enter the new parliament range from republicans, genuine communists, anti-establishment groups, greens and above all, nationalists from several autonomous regions. This latter lot, apart from the declared republicans, are those that are in favor of the Monarchy and those that are not. Spain has thus turned from a majority bi-partisan system since the end of the Franco dictatorship into a real multi-cultural and multi-colored political spectrum. Not sure of the exact number, but it’s in the range of some fifty to sixty different parties that are involved. The same applies to the Senate.
So what now?
Well, elections were held just before the Christmas and New Year holiday season, thus nothing really happened until the second week in January when our new parliamentary representatives got over their festive hangovers.
As per the Constitution, the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was the first move. Sr. Paxti Lopez, the president of the socialist party in the Basque country was elected. No problem. The next step was for each political party that had obtained the sufficient number of seats to present before the Head of State, King Felipe VI their candidate to lead the government. The King in turn would vouch for the candidate. This is pure protocol. What occurred in practice is a typical merry-go-round. With the number of parties and the lack of a majority no agreement was reached. The doors now opened to the real political funfair.
To begin with, as there is no outright winner, the need for negotiations and pacts began and what is worse the ‘I will never strike a deal with that lot!’ rambled through the corridors of power. The conservatives were willing to negotiate a deal with what they call the ‘Constitution Parties’, those that believe in the unity of Spain. Ironically they include the socialists as well as the newcomer Ciudadans. Never with Podemos or radical nationalists. Ah! But Sr. Sanchez, the socialist leader has vowed, and is backed by his party, never to do business with Sr. Rajoy (PP) as he says the whole party is totally corrupt (see Valencia). Ciudadans is quite happy to sit on the fence except that party leader Albert Ribera will never support the ultra-left Podemos party of Pablo Iglesias.
And what about all the ‘others’ that the socialists are willing to do business with?
Enter the internal battle within the party that is actually split down the middle. One half, that back the leader Sr. Sanchez are willing to strike a deal with almost everyone on the left, and this includes a real collection of all kinds as long as they allow Sr. Sanchez to be invested as President of Spain. The other half are dead against. Why? Because they could include those that are seeking independence such as the nationalist parties of Catalonia (see breakup), the Basque Country and Galicia. It also would mean striking a deal with Podemos and this means moving into unknown and dangerous territory (see Iran). But Sr. Sanchez, up to a point is clever. As no decision was taken on the 30th to reach some sort of agreed approach, as leader of the party, and in his right, has decided to put the case before the so called militants, i.e. all party paid members throughout the country. Yet another delaying tactic.
* As of today 3.2.16 the Spanish King has requested the Socialists to form a government with Podemos - so if you haven't got your money out of Spain now, it will soon be too late.
Meanwhile, the merry-go-round procedure of presenting proposals to the King will continue.
Part of the problem that is negating any agreement between socialists (PSOE) and conservatives (PP) is because of the numerous corruption scandals that have hit the right wing party over the past few years despite the fact that corruption in general is rampant throughout Spain. The Pujol case in Catalonia and the syphoning off of thousands of millions of public money in Andalusia are two cases in point. But the latest is a complete crackdown on the party in Valencia. No need to go into details but we’re talking about dozens of regional government and town council members including leaders that are now all in the dock. This happened during the last few weeks. Hence Sr. Sanchez and his party’s refusal to even talk to Sr. Rajoy, acting president of Spain. And what about Podemos?
As Sgt. ‘Hoffy’ Hoffman said in the film ‘Stalag 17’, ‘put them all together and, boy do we have a situation!’
During Sr. Pablo Iglesias, party leader’s presentation of a proposal to King Felipe VI he went one step further saying that he would agree to a pact with the socialists provided he was made Vice-President, and his party were given the following ministries:
- State Television (TVE)
Quite a tall order! One can imagine the reaction, even within the socialist party. They were flabbergasted. There is another caveat that has come to light recently and that is the party’s funding from non-other than the government of Iran. It has been going on for some years even up until November, 2015 just before the general elections. This is now being investigated by the legal beagles as political parties are not allowed to receive funds from a foreign government. There is another even more sinister implication to this deal.
Podemos is the only party in Spain that has not signed the anti-jihadist pact, an agreement reached by all other parties after the Paris bombings in November last year. Whether the outbreak of this news, and should they form part of the future Spanish government has any international repercussions, especially in Israel is yet to be seen.
16.02.16 Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos has more or less turned the whole country upside down with his demands if they join forces with the socialists and other echelons to form a government. Vice presidency and control of all the vital institutions including the CNI (equivalent of CIA and MI5), media, banks and 7 ministries. Right down the path of Venezuela! EU still asleep and unaware. Lets see what the reaction is. All aboard the 'Titanic' leaving on the 12th of April 2016!
Watch this space!
Now on to other issues that still may hamper the formation of a government.
The possible break-up of Spain is on the cards. Catalonia is a real problem as it has gone too far. Sr. Carles Puigdemont has finally been appointed as the new President of the autonomous region. His first statement has been to approve a referendum to seek independence in eighteen months time. Sra. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, a one time supporter of Podemos has announced the formation of yet another new party to support independence. No stopping them now. Meanwhile, the ruling Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), with the support of Bildu (ETA’s party) has also said that their never ending goal towards independence of the region will continue. And then there is my patch, Galicia, whereby their Podemos sidekicks called ‘Marea’ are in power in the major cities, Corunna, Santiago de Compostela and Ferrol awaiting regional elections to oust the conservatives (PP) this coming November. Sounds confusing and crazy but it’s yet another sample of the political arena adding fuel to the havoc of the general elections.
There is more to come.
Princess Cristina, the King’s elder sister has been summoned before the judges for tax evasion. I had reported this in several other issues as it is linked to the ‘Nóos’ case related to the dirty business carried out by her husband Iñaki Undargarin and partners. The main point here is that a few weeks ago she was exempt from appearing before the magistrate. This has now been overruled by the district attorney of Palma de Mallorca and the news appeared right slap bang in the middle of the present political mayhem. Why? Because it adds more fuel to all the republican, national and other anti-monarchy parties that are scattered across the country, especially the autonomous region of Catalonia; another fly in the ointment. I’ll end this report on another uncertainty. The economy that has passed a major hurdle and on route to a partial recovery.
Whilst Spain is in the midst of sorting out its eventual government that at this stage could be anybody’s guess, the citizens continue to live their daily life. Unemployment has dropped, tourism has hit a new high and the till is still full of fresh money to survive at least the first six months as the 2016 budget was approved last year. If there are moves over to the extreme left or a miracle occurs and a moderate center coalition takes over the effects will not be felt until later in the year. In other words, status quo for about six to twelve months. This is my prediction.
However, the outside world is keeping a close watch. A spokesman for the European Union has stated that the Commission is not concerned with what government takes over in Spain. The important fact is that the country must continue down the path of more reforms – whatever these are – and continue on a growth pattern as per the recent forecasts. The other players in the game, the European Central Bank and the IMF have kept quiet but if there is any hiccups that even hint at another Greek fiasco, there will be no hesitation in pressing the ‘red’ button and we all know what that means.
The above is the present panorama, as I see it that is exclusive to the present situation in Spain. No outside influences such as oil prices, jihadism or the refugee problem have been taken into account. No doubt these will also affect the country sooner or later.
Oh, I forgot! Podemos also wants to nationalize the banks!
Inter party negotiations are still going on to see if the socialists (PSOE) can form some sort of a coalition government. It is most unlikely because there are certain 'red lines' that are not to me crossed, i.e. agreement with the separatist parties (Basque Country, Catalonia, Balearic Islands and Galicia). On the other hand, the centre party 'Ciudadanos' refuses to negotiate a deal that includes 'Podemos' (We can) and, last but not least they will NEVER negotiate a deal with the Conservatives (PP).
It reminds me of the noughts and crosses game that always ends in stale mate. So; what next you may ask? This circus act, named by more that one journalist, will probably continue till the end of the month as I believe the deadline is now the 28th. I think they will have another go and if that doesn't bring a result its new elections (July).
In the meantime, the outside world (EU, ECB, Stock Markets and investors) is beginning to lose its patience. All bets are off! The real frightening scenario, however is that 'Podemos', that openly seeks a revolutionist government Venezuela style, is already entrenched and in bed with PSOE in seven autonomous regions and hundreds of town councils including the main cities, Madrid and Barcelona. Meanwhile the separatist movements are in full swing, especially Catalonia, but soon to be followed by the rest as mentioned above. Despite no real concern is shown internationally, as there are hundreds of other world problems, my opinion is that Spain may soon face a new Balkans' affair with tremendous social unrest and the possible break up of the country.
I'll stop here although suffice to say that the reason that all this has come about dates back to the original transition agreements after the Franco dictatorship that allowed Spain to literally be divided into seventeen autonomous regions, all with their own parliamentary powers, including education and health (vital error) to introduce their own local laws.
Looks like we have a stalemate. Negotiations between the Socialist (PSOE) Secretary Pedro Sanchez and the other two main contenders (other than the conservatives) Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Alber Rivera of Ciudadans are going nowhere as these latter two do not see eye to eye. If he jumps with the extreme left ( Podemos) he is open to a takeover by the whole radical bunch that will eat him alive. If he goes the other way (with Ciudadans) he has to capitulate and sign a deal with the Mariano Rajoy conservative (PP) and hence step down from his attempt to become president. This latter agreement is what the majority of sensible Spaniards and the outside world want as Spain would continue (for 4 years) as a Monarchy supported by the 1982 Constitution. Any other format would send the nation downhill into an uncertain future. No mention, as yet of any new players substituting the present lot.
Next 2 weeks are crucial.
© James G. Skinner. February 17 2016.
*For more background go to see this link to the formation of the Popular Front which in tun led to Civil War back in the '30s.
James Skinner is the author of several novels on Spanish and South American politics
The Galician Parallax by James G Skinner
Published by Troubador
Democracy at Stake in Spain
Chaos Beckons in Turbulent Spain in 2016