••• The International Writers Magazine:From our Spanish correspondent
All Change in Spain
Political chaos in Spain after PP corruption convictions. Sr. Barcenas gets 33 years for his crimes, and Rajoy falls from power. PM Sanchez and the Socialists take over ...
So, we now have a new government in Spain. In under two weeks an unexpected victory of a vote of ‘no confidence’ tumbled the conservative (PP) leadership of Mariano Rajoy and replaced it with the socialist (PSOE) Pedro Sanchez. It was, for the latter a ‘third time’ lucky, as Sr. Sanchez had tried on two other occasion to evict Sr. Rajoy. This has probably been the shortest time taken in any Western democracy including Spain. Let this not be confused with the resignation of Richard Nixon due to the Watergate scandal or Mrs. Margaret Thatcher because of the infamous ‘poll tax’. Neither were replaced by the opposition. It is also the first time that a new government takes office without a general election (and a PM who isn't an actual MP).
So how did all this come about?
To start with, Sr. Sanchez and many other opposition leaders have been accusing the conservative party (PP) of corruption that dated back to the early part of this century known as the ‘Gürtel’ case. This has been reported in previous essays. The process was in the hands of the Spanish judicial system and as in so many other cases, the prosecution and eventual indictment took its time. Lots of time. Back in 2016, the culprits were finally accused, and without going into unnecessary details were convicted to await sentence. Meanwhile, the government continued with ‘business as usual’ taking little notice of the constant barrage of reminders of the case with Sr. Sanchez at the helm of the accusations who kept insisting on Sr. Rajoy’s resignation.
On the government’s agenda was the approval of the 2018 budget that was heatedly debated in parliamentary sessions with many of the autonomous regions demanding preference over others. Pretty normal in a democracy. The Basque Regional government under the nationalists (PNV) finally agreed provided the government lifted the ban on the Catalan Government known as article 155 in the Spanish Constitution. This is because the original elected regional government of Sr. Puigdemont - still in Brussels – and his crew were considered un-constitutional as many are in prison and awaiting trial. But this is another story.
Pretty confusing so far
Well, whilst the above debate on the budget was going on in Madrid, the Catalan government held yet another stab at appointing a new leader. This time the helm was handed to Sr. Quim Torra, of the same party (Junts per Catalunya) who formed a new cabinet. None are on the ‘wanted’ list, similar to the old time cowboy movies. So, on 24th of May, Sr. Rajoy was able to kill two birds with one stone. Lift the ban and obtain the Basque National party’s (PNV) approval of the budget.
So what happened?
After champagne was uncorked and celebrations were held at government level the sentences on the ‘Gürtel’ case came through with monumental jail sentences. The much awaited debate presented in parliament of the ‘vote of no confidence’ kicked off. The joy turned into sorrow. Thus began the build-up for the eventual slinging match in parliament between the government and the ‘rest’. A great deal of behind the scenes negotiations started between the Socialists and this ‘rest’ so that Sr. Sanchez could reach the goal of 176 votes in favor of ousting the government. On the other side of the camp, Sr Rajoy was doing his own marketing. He had the certain backing of Sr. Rivera, of Ciudadanos (the every-which-way party) and possibly one or two of the regional parties, especially from the Canary Islands and the Basque National Party (PNV). Come Thursday, 31st of May the debate and voting began. One by one of the representatives of the national parties (Ciudadanos, Podemos, PP and PSOE) and the regional ‘rest’ presented their case and their vote.
The Basques (5 MPs) suddenly voted in favor of Sr. Sanchez and the Canary Islands (1) abstained. Bang! The final result was 180 for Sanchez and 169 for Rajoy and the 1 abstention. The rest is now history. Sr. Rajoy is out and Sr. Sanchez is in. The story, however does not end here. Enter all the players on the other side of the fence from the outgoing conservative (PP) government - mainly regional representatives – that will eventually demand a piece of the cake as a reward for their vote. And there is a whole bunch of them!
I’ll leave it there only to add that the first step is for Sr. Sanchez to form a government. He has stated that he has already made up his mind on the eventual cabinet and will announce it on Wednesday 6th June. Apart from the new set of ministers, all the posts throughout the country held by government representatives will have to be replaced with socialists. King Felipe VI has signed the approval as per the Constitution. Senor Sanchez has indicated he wants to govern for two years (the expected life of this parliament) but others may disagree on this idea!
There is however, a final unknown. Sr. Pablo Iglesias of the extreme left party Podemos (We can) has made it quite clear that he expects Sr. Sanchez to include him as part of the government.
* June 6th
Pedro Sanchez is forming a government with prominent female 'top dogs'. Emphasis on Europeanisation. Rajoy has resigned. PP debating 'who's next?' So far so good.
Important note: Number of MP’s per party in the voting:
ERC (Catalan Republican party): 9
‘The rest’: 19
Background to the Gürtel affair and the lead up to the change of government:
Like many kids during my early school days I studied, amongst other classical literature the works of Charles Dickens. One of my favorites was ‘A Christmas Carol’. Uncertain of what is taught today, I considered this particular piece a gem. It’s all about a ghost that comes back to haunt one Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean and unscrupulous businessman who is shown his past, present and what could be his future if he does not change his ways. Yet what has this XVI Century play got to do with Spain you may ask? It is an excellent analogy.
In this modern case, the ghost is a corruption scandal involving the conservative party (PP) that began back in 2009 but was not until 2016 that the culprits were brought to trial. It was known as ‘Gürtel’ affair, reported in several issue of this magazine. Without going into details, the party’s treasurer, Sr. Luis Barcenas had been keeping two separate sets of accounts syphoning off millions of Euros into foreign bank accounts to the tune of over 50 million Euros. It had been going on for years. Once the trial began, more dirty washing filtered through involving dozens of party members. That, in a nutshell is the ‘ghost’ of the past.
Now the ‘ghost’ of the present.
Ever since conservative (PP) Sr. Mariano Rajoy was elected President in 2011 with an overwhelming majority he began an economic recovery program to heal the wounds of the previous socialist (PSOE) government that did not react to the 2008 financial world crisis soon enough. Spain was on the verge of an IMF intervention similar to that of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. He successfully cleaned up the banking system at a huge cost, concentrated on reducing the unemployment rate that had skyrocketed and slowly moved Spain towards a moderate recovery with an approximate 2 to 3 percent annual growth rate. However, many other reform electoral promises were not implemented, but that is another story. On the 24th of last month, after a heated round of talks and parliamentary debates the government, thanks to the support of the Basque Country’s regional government finally approved the awaited 2019 budget. This will allow the country to continue to move forward. It didn’t last 24 hours. The very next day, the Spanish courts finally sentenced the ‘Gürtel’ culprits with heavy jail sentences that included the infamous Sr. Barcenas. He got 33 years for his crimes. The rest began to follow. Wow! Did that put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Last stop - the ‘ghost’ of the future.
Apart from national news the very next day, also reported in most of the international media, the opposition parties, the whole lot, sprang to action to condemn the present government for all these past corruption sins including Sr. Mariano Rajoy and all his cabinet. The first to pull out the samurai sword was the socialist (PSOE) leader Sr. Pedro Sanchez, backed by Sr. Pablo Iglesias of Podemos (We can) the Marxist party who registered a formal and legal ‘vote of no confidence’. He immediately set out to obtain the majority of votes required from other members of parliament when the motion is brought before the house this coming Monday. There is one caveat. Sr. Sanchez had recently signed an agreement with Sr. Rajoy to uphold the Constitution with regards to the present crisis in Catalonia (I’ll get to this later!) thus divorcing his party from those in the Catalan separatist camp that are bent in returning Spain to a Republic similar to the 1930’s of the last century. And there is a whole bunch of them. To reach a majority he also needed the support from others such as the Basque region nationalists and a straggle of votes from the smaller parties represented in parliament. Amidst this chaotic situation, Sr. Albert Riveira, of the every-which-way party Ciudadanos holds the key to an eventual showdown. His party has sufficient votes that would definitely swing in favor of a change in government.
Meanwhile, the Catalan regional government has appointed Sr. Quim Torra as their new President belonging to the same party as the previous and notorious Sr. Puigdemont who remains in Germany awaiting extradition. Meanwhile, article 155 of the Constitution that had transferred powers to the central government in Madrid in day to day management of the region is still in force. The outgoing PM, Sr. Rajoy, informed Sr. Torra that this imposition would be lifted if he forms a government that refrains from the constant declaration of UDI (Unilateral declaration of Independence) that has been the fly in the ointment since day one. Mr. Torra however, not only is a firm separatist but has ignored the plea and his first assignment was to fly to Germany to meet with Sr. Puigdemont. In other words, the situation is back to square one.
**Two stories of relevance have emerged this week. One is the new destiny of the poor Africans that are daring to cross the Mediterranean after being turned away by Italy, Greece and Malta. Valencia! That is the good news. The bad is that Spain is just not equipped as a nation to handle them and politicians have taken over making mince meat over the problem. The Aquarius with 600 migrants on board is on its way and should arrive on Saturday.
The second one is that the newly appointed Minister of Culture and Sport (by the way, he hates football!) was found guilty about three years ago of Income Tax fraud. Ha Ha. This came to light yesterday. Al Capone comes to mind.
Fun and games in modern Spain. 'Bring in the clowns' as the song goes.
Donald Trump continues to play poker with the world in general whilst, after decades Korea’s Kim and Moon shake hands. With US imposing 25% tarrifs on EU steel and 10% on aluminium a trade war has begun.
At least this neck of the woods is taking a breather. Israel and Palestine back to the horror front with Gaza ‘going up in flames’. Yet again! Meanwhile, on the geographical climate side a nasty ‘wake-up’ call is taking place in Hawaii. The continued and unstoppable eruption of the Kilauea volcano added to incredible changes in weather patterns makes one wonder which way the ‘cookie’ is going to crumble next as humanity creeps towards Armageddon. Europe on the other hand, adds its own fuel. We have the entertainment with Harry and Meghan’s wedding on the bright side and Italy’s economic woes on the other. And finally we’ve got Brexit, that on a daily basis seems like a remake of Bill Murray’s excellent portrayal of dozy Phil in ‘Groundhog day’.
To end on a happy note, Real Madrid beat Liverpool (Thanks to Welshman Gareth Bale) in the final of the European Champions football championship for the thirteenth time and the third in a row. Spaniards have momentarily forgotten about the political and economic woes.
See you next month.
© James G. Skinner. June 14th 2018.
The Pack - Spain
Rough Justice in Pamplona
...every feminist movement in the country mobilized massive demonstrations to overturn the ruling and called for a revision of the legal system regarding sexual criminal cases