The establishment bounces back in Spain

June 30, 2016

Elections in the Spanish state in late June produced disappointing results for the left. The radical left party Podemos, founded just two years ago, had hoped an electoral coalition with Izquierda Unida (IU) would help it leapfrog the center-left Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) into at least second place in the election--and thus pose a strong challenge to the two-party system. Instead, the Podemos-IU share of the vote decreased from previous elections.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the center-right Popular Party (PP) used the shock at the outcome of the Brexit vote in the UK to portray himself as a force for stability. This likely contributed to the share of the vote for the PP and the PSOE, the two main parties in Spain, increasing by 5 percent compared to voting in the first round six months ago.

Jaime Pastor is a professor of political science, a member of Anticapitalistas (the section of the Fourth International in the Spanish state) and editor of the Spanish political magazine Viento Sur. In this article first published in English at the International Viewpoint website, Pastor assesses the outcome of last weekend's elections and the implications for the left.

WITH ABSTENTION up by 4 percent from the last parliamentary elections in the Spanish state on December 20, 2016 (69.84 percent participation against 73.2 percent), the results of what we might call a "second round," with the right-wing Popular Party (PP) increasing its number of votes (600,000 extra votes and 33 percent of voters) and its number of seats to 137 (against 123 previously), and a Socialist Party (PSOE) that, despite losing 100,000 votes (22.7 percent) and five seats, remains the second biggest political force in the country. There is relief for the regime, which had to deal with the pressure of Unidos Podemos (UP), which, losing more than a million votes, has not managed to appear as the political expression of change. The good news comes in the substantial decline of Ciudadanos, which lost 400,000 votes and eight seats to the benefit of the PP, which was able to exploit the theme of the "useful vote." In Catalonia, one can only note the persistence of a majority in favor of autonomy with 56.6 percent of the vote going to the autonomist/pro-independence parties.

Spain's incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Spain's incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

It will take time to analyze this result, which is very different from what most polls predicted, and among the explanations, study the impact of Brexit on the movement of votes of the undecided in favor of the right. Nevertheless, we can see now that it will not have tipped the balance toward change, but on the contrary towards conservatism and reaction.

In any case, it will not be easy to put a government in place: the PP must rely not only on the support of Ciudadanos (32 seats) and "Coalicion Canaria" (one seat) but also on the abstention of the Basque PNV (right autonomist, five seats) and the PSOE (82 seats) to form a government. Ciudadanos and the PSOE must also accept, under pressure, that this government would be led by Mariano Rajoy (PP), who emerges strengthened from these elections--Ciudadanos and the PSOE ruled out this scenario during the campaign. The pressure is already at work, particularly on the PSOE, if we look at the editorial in El País (the largest Spanish daily newspaper), which says that it is necessary that the PSOE "allows, with its abstention, the establishment of a government by those in favor of what the ballot boxes have decided."

WHILE BREXIT demonstrates the failure of the project of the European Union and that the euro area is still more polarized between creditors and debtors, we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty where the only thing that is certain is the growth of inequality and the social and political movements against austerity.

The challenge remains knowing which forces are able to respond to this real malaise: either those who pander to the politics of resentment against refugees and immigrants to rebuild a neo-fascism that accommodates to economic globalization, or new socio-political alternatives that argues for a restoration of solidarity between the peoples, starting in the south of Europe, and against the dictatorship of debt and xenophobia.

As for UP, in spite of coming first in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Navarre, it is obvious that the hopes raised by the coalition of Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) have not been fulfilled at the ballot box, and the coalition did not outpoll the PSOE as the polls had predicted. We will of course need to analyze the reasons and the choices of more than a million lost voters. One reason could be the juxtaposition of different discourses in a short period of time, which must surely have confused the potential electorates of both IU and Podemos.

Thus, after a "national-populist" discourse that had shown its limitations in the Catalan elections of September 27, 2015, a more "pluri-national" approach was adopted before finally returning to a new idea of "homeland," which, as we see it, was counter-productive. Simultaneously, since December 20, 2015, we have gone from the discourse of the "people against the caste" to a more conventional "left" discourse, including classifying the PSOE as part of the left. This is to respond to the aspirations of IU, which wanted to regain the space of the so-called left of rupture and were finally taken by the somewhat chaotic discourse of Pablo Iglesias, whose erosion as a charismatic leader is now palpable.

The limits and contradictions of this discourse have only become more flagrant with its programmatic ambiguity around fundamental questions like the attitude to be taken to the Troika, the debt or a critical assessment of the experience of SYRIZA, to mention only the most obvious. These limits have been all the more important because UP has not reached its goal of winning a territorial anchor with an organization different from the other parties. This "model," that of the electoral machine, proved to be very conventional in the end, top down and not very pluralistic, which has generated numerous internal crises and sapped efforts to construct the organization needed to spread to the territories and complete the very necessary but insufficient television and Internet campaigns.

However, there is no question of self-flagellation or settling of accounts. What matters is rebuilding an atmosphere of solidarity, fraternity and respect of pluralism in order to seek a new framework of consensus and work together because "yes, we can." For this, we need more "wars of position" on all fronts. It is now our role as an opposition to reformulate what unites us and to propose politically in a coherent fashion so as to rebuild links with social organizations that support change and a break with austerity and with the regime that implements them.

First published in English translation at International Viewpoint.

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