Spain: Countdown to general election

On 20 December 2015, Spain will hold a general election amidst the turbulence of calls for independence in Catalonia and the weakening of the two-party system. The elite feels uneasy at the emergence of voices demanding constitutional reform, to open the way for the people to exercise their right to decide over territorial, political and social issues. The unwillingness of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to change the status quo has resulted in a dual strategy: on the one hand attempting to persuade voters of the country’s alleged economic recovery and, on the other, using repressive force to imprison activists – allowing him, conveniently, to introduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ into his election campaign. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

September’s election in Catalonia created a divided regional parliament, in which the majority is formed by bourgeois nationalists (Junts pel Sí) and pro-independence anti-capitalists (CUP). On 9 November, the Catalonian Parliament approved the beginning of a political process towards independence by 72 votes to 63. The decision was supported by Artur Mas, the right-wing politician who has been president for the last five years and who is responsible for privatisations, austerity policies, social cuts and corruption in his own party. Unsurprisingly, the CUP has twice refused to vote him into office and talks are being held to find an alternative candidate for a stable regional government by 10 January 2016. If this deadline to establish a new Catalonian president is not met, new elections will have to be called – something none of the separatists want.

Spain’s conservative government, together with two other parties, has appealed to the Constitutional Court to ban the process towards independence. It is also considering other measures, such as intervening in the regional budget, putting a halt to all Catalonian autonomy or charging some political leaders over secession. It is partly this stubbornness on the part of Rajoy and the refusal to find a political approach, which has fuelled the desire for independence among some sections of Catalonian society.

Economic background

As we reported in FRFI 247, the Spanish 2016 General Budget is as anti-social as it is unsustainable. It pretends to predict such an optimistic scenario in the labour market that it can ‘save’ €5.5 billion in unemployment benefit. Meanwhile, the budget sets out to please the rich by reducing taxes on capital and profits – while increasing funding of most ministries. In early October, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, warned Spain over deficit target risks, saying its budget plans would see the country unable to meet targets in 2015 and 2016. Brussels and Germany were more supportive of the Spanish budget, but the EU comments still undermine Rajoy’s self-satisfied policies, making it clear that recovery is not firm, employment has not taken off and cuts are definitely not over. However, Moscovici added that it would be the duty of the cabinet that resulted from the December election to provide stability and ensure compliance with the EU plan.

An OECD report on Spanish youth and employment reveals that the country has the highest rate of youth (22%) forced to work part-time in so-called ‘mini-jobs’ (low-paid, insecure contracts for a maximum 15 hours a week). The rate of unemployment for under-25s was 52.4% in 2014. The average monthly wage for the youth has declined from €1,210 in 2008 to €890 in 2013.

‘Domestic terrorism’ is made a feature of the election campaign

The reform of the Penal Code allows the charge of ‘belonging to a terrorist organisation’ to be brought against anyone who ‘attempts to subvert the constitutional order’, even if the group is not armed and has not committed any acts of violence. It is very tempting for the ruling party to exploit the label of ‘terrorism’ for political reasons – especially just before an election. On 28 October, the police raided ten flats and social centres in Catalonia, in a massive operation targeting anarchists. Nine people were arrested and charged with ‘criminal association with a terrorist purpose’. Two days later, another operation took place in Galiza to arrest the leadership of the independence group Causa Galiza, whose activity was banned for the next two years. Nine activists face a political trial just for their ideas and their organisation has been conveniently removed from the political sphere. Meanwhile in Madrid a trial is taking place against the Basque internationalist and solidarity group Askapena, in which the major evidence offered of ‘promoting terrorism’ is the Basque campaign to boycott Israel and Coca-Cola.

Trials against those arrested during the general strikes of 2012 are now taking place; in most cases prosecutors are demanding disproportionate sentences; for instance, five people from Madrid could face between two and seven years in prison. A young man from Malaga falsely accused of ‘attacking the authorities’ faces a five-year sentence. During the general strike in November 2012, a woman lost an eye after being hit with a rubber bullet shot by police in Barcelona. After three years denying the use of this material, the court found evidence of misconduct and two officers could face a sentence of less than two years – meaning they will not in fact spend any time in prison. This is the double standard applied to activists and police officers.

Run-up to election

The polls indicate no dramatic break with tradition but, rather, a diversification of Parliament, with the major parties forced to establish alliances. Disaffection with the social democratic Socialist Party and conservative People’s Party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy does not seem strong enough for radical change, but there are two new parties which will take crucial seats. Ciudadanos (Citizens) is a right-wing political force which aims at ‘regenerating politics’, although its programme shows little or no difference with that of the conservatives. It has held seats at the Catalonian parliament for nine years. During that time, its representatives have systematically voted the same way as the PP. The second party is Podemos (see previous issues of FRFI), which has taken opportunistic steps to turn itself into a social-democratic election machine, aiming to capture the most votes without mobilising the population. Podemos leaders deliver speeches empty of class content and focus on recruiting high-profile figures, including a former commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On the other hand, United Left (IU) is leading an attempt to shape a coalition called Popular Unity, but is not expected to win more than 6% of the vote.

Organised sections of the population who have been standing up to government policies have been involved to some extent in shaping electoral coalitions. This has meant there has been less pressure and activity on the streets, compared to the constant pickets and protests that took place between 2011 and 2014. But there are have been some challenges, mainly around specific issues such as repressive laws, housing, health care and women’s rights. On 7 November 2015, hundreds of thousands marched in Madrid against sexist violence, harassment and femicide – in the last six years 658 women have been killed. On 28 November, protests took place in major towns against the war in Syria, which could provide momentum for an anti-imperialist movement.

It is vital to strengthen the network of activism and resistance built over the last few years, and not allow its demands to be subsumed by electoral concerns. A real change for a society soaked in inequality, corruption and repression can only come from the articulation of a movement that organises politics from below, with any institutional expression both committed and connected to it.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016

 

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