Spain: May election spurs right-wing alliances

After nine months of social-democratic government, President Pedro Sánchez has not implemented any change to the austerity programmes set out by his conservative predecesor. Parliamentary activity has grown sterile and dominated by arguments over Catalonia. As the division of forces in the congress has made it impossible to pass new laws, only a few decrees have been approved by the cabinet. Meanwhile, the trials have started in Madrid against Catalan political leaders charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and mishandling public funds for holding an independence referendum on 1 October 2017. The only way the ruling class in Spain has found out of the political impasse and social instability of the country is to declare a general election on 28 April, followed by municipal and European parliament elections at the end of May. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

The impeachment of Mariano Rajoy of the People’s Party (PP) in May last year was followed by the social democratic government of Pedro Sánchez. The PSOE took on a general budget designed by conservatives, reassured the EU that it would fulfil the country’s obligations and has made no significant change either in social provision or towards resolving the Catalan conflict. On 2 December 2018, the election in Andalusia resulted in the social democrats being replaced in the regional government for the first time by a right-wing coalition. This coalition is formed by the conservative PP, the neoliberal reactionary Ciudadanos and far-right racist party Vox.   

The extreme right on the rise

The political scenario in Andalusia is seen as a springboard for a further right-wing alliance after the forthcoming rounds of elections, and parties are seeking support and new incorporations. Set up chiefly by Franco’s former officials, PP has enjoyed the monopoly of the right in Spain, oscillating between Catholic conservatism and ultra-neoliberal and corrupt economic policies. In the run-up to elections, PP has recruited two bullfighters for top positions on its list of candidates. Ciudadanos is a neoliberal party promoted by the Bilderberg group, which supports the EU austerity plans and the withdrawal of powers from regions to promote a centralised Spanish state; it also promotes the market regulation of prostitution and has introduced a bill to liberalise the market for surrogacy.  Ciudadanos has given a post to the former vice-president of Coca-Cola Spain. Vox has been for a decade a marginal party with little influence, until it got close to 400,000 votes in Andalusia - 11% of the electorate. It was set up by Spanish utra-nationalists who split from the ranks of PP and is made up of members of the police and military inspired by Franco’s dictatorship and of the reactionary middle and upper classes. Openly racist, Vox promotes islamophobia and hatred against the migrant population, blaming them for the economic crisis, while its programme supports right-wing measures to reduce taxes on the rich and de facto eliminate any trace of a welfare state.

The neo-Nazi terrorist who shocked the world in New Zealand on 15 March, had inscribed the name of Josue Estébanez on one of the rifle magazines he used to massacre 50 Muslims in Christchurch. Estébanez is a Spanish former soldier imprisoned for stabbing to death an anti-fascist teenager in a metro carriage in 2007; he is also a member of the far-right National Democracy group. This organisation and other fascist factions are joining forces for the election to the European Parliament, along with similar parties abroad.

Catalonia trials

In February, the trials against the leaders of the Catalan parliament started. They had already spent over a year in prison without bail. In October 2017, in the face of a massive demand for a referendum on independence, the Catalan government allowed it to go ahead in defiance of a ban from the Home Office and the Constitutional Court. Those peacefully exercising their right to vote were met with thousands of riot police sent from all over Spain, who brutally attacked and injured over 1,000 people. In the wake of the referendum, the Spanish state took control of the region, its police forces seized Catalan institutions and members of the region’s government were arrested or fled into exile.

The Catalan case has proved the democratic deficit of the Spanish state, challenging German tribunals to prosecute exiles and asking for disproportionate sentences. The defence claims this is a political trial, with obstruction of access to evidence and hostile judges at the Supreme Court. In Catalonia, social and political organisations have built a movement to campaign for the right to self-determination and the release of political prisoners. On 16 March, a huge protest took place in the centre of Madrid, demanding freedom for Catalan leaders, the end of repression and in support of the right to choose. The independence movement had organised nearly 400 coaches from Catalonia and two trains filled with activists, who met another hundred coaches from Galicia, Basque Country and Andalucia. However, the impressive march and the welcome by activists in Madrid were practically ignored by the mainstream media. The trials against the Catalan leadership are expected to continue at least until mid-May, although some have been chosen to stand as candidates on behalf of their parties.

The wounded left

The mainstream left seems more fragmented than ever. Podemos is struggling to build alliances, but in some regions party splits see sections becoming wedded to their institutional thrones. Opportunism is taking root and in Madrid a large section of Podemos - including the major Manuela Carmena – has split to avoid having to stand in internal elections and avoid rules aimed at democratising the coalition. Each day, the political apparatus of the left becomes more and more concerned with electoral campaigning, and risks weakening its connection with the social struggles.

However, together with striking pensioners, the feminist movement has proved to be an independent force capable of maintaining campaigns, debates and organisation. The success of the feminist strike on 8 March last year has been built on, resulting this year in a general strike with a massive turnout. Every major town came to a standstill: hundreds of thousands of people formed pickets, shut roads down and held lively protests demanding real equality, equal salaries and rights, more funds and projects to end sexist violence and more stringent policies against rape and sexual assault.  


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