Spain: Divided ruling class faces impasse

Spain held its second general election in less than 12 months at the end of June. Although the conservative People’s Party (PP) received the most votes, it did not win enough to form a government, even after signing a deal with the new right-wing party Ciudadanos. Mariano Rajoy lost two attempts to be voted in as prime minister by parliament for a second term. Progressive forces urged the social-democratic PSOE to stand an alternative candidate, but its leaders refused to do so, fearing the radicalisation of their own fragile coalition. The two-party system has been undermined but the outcome is an impasse, which may lead to a third election on 18 December. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

On 25 September, regional elections were held in Galicia and the Basque country, with very different results. The PP had a landslide victory in Galicia, despite the media publishing pictures of its candidate hobnobbing with a notorious drug dealer. In the Basque Country, the bourgeois Basque Nationalist Party obtained 37.65% of the vote and is gathering support to establish a majority in the regional Parliament. The party with the second-most votes was EH Bildu, Basque left-wing nationalists whose candidate had been released after four years in prison and officially banned by the Electoral Court. EH Bildu challenged the terms of his release – which had tried to make him ineligible to stand for office – and he now becomes leader of the regional opposition with 21.23% of the vote, followed by Podemos with 14.83%.

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Podemos falters in the face of austerity and crisis

Even after its second general election in six months, the Spanish political parties remain incapable of forming a government – a symptom of the capitalist crisis gripping the country. The second election held on 26 June strengthened the conservative Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy, but not sufficiently to allow him to form a majority government despite the Socialist Party achieving the worst results in its history. Meanwhile, the apparently radical Podemos, once the posterboy group of modern-day social democracy, managed to lose a million votes – as its socialist-lite rhetoric rings increasingly hollow to a working class facing rising unemployment and a new tranche of austerity measures. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

Yet despite savage public sector cuts and attacks on benefits and wages, Spain has failed to reach its European Union-imposed deficit targets for four years running. Last year, the deficit was 5.1% of GDP, compared with a 4.2% target, making Spain now officially liable for a fine of up to €2.1bn. The Spanish Minister of the Economy is optimistic that the penalty will be merely symbolic, as the government has complied with EU demands. In fact, the European Commission has suggested whatever fine is eventually imposed may depend on the willingness of the new government to satisfy those demands. Brussels has instructed Spain to make an ‘adjustment’ (cut) of €10bn until 2017; it also announced that it will freeze €1.1bn of EU funding to Spain. But it is clear that the European Union does not want to see a repeat of the defiance shown by neighbouring Portugal, which has refused to impose the additional austerity measures demanded by the EU and also faces financial sanctions.

June elections: political uncertainty

After the general election in December 2015, no party had a sufficient majority to establish even a coalition government. The June recall election strengthened the conservatives, with the PP winning 137 seats out of a total of 350, 14 more than in December. The social democrats of the Socialist Party suffer major losses, winning only 85 seats, but still managed second place. The biggest surprise was the slump in support for Podemos, whose support fell from over six million votes in December to five million, although the alliance it had formed with the United Left Unity meant that the ‘Unidos Podemos’ coalition came in third place with 71 seats.

Podemos – the failure of left social democracy

The leadership of Podemos was disappointed and astonished at the results. The party had agreed joint candidates with the United Left-People’s Unity for purely tactical rather than principled reasons, expect to increase its votes. This has become the only measure that counts for Podemos, which adapts everything it does or says to attract the necessary votes, with even its leaders adapting their speeches in an opportunist way. But the party does not actually mobilise any forces into action – rather it creates the illusion of change from above, change from simply voting Podemos into office.

So they do whatever it takes, with inevitable contradictions. One day Podemos Pablo Iglesias is seen hugging retired left-wing leaders surrounded by republican flags; the next, he talks about defending ‘the homeland’ flanked by the official Spanish flag. At one meeting he will denounce a European Union that serves the interests of transnational capital; at another he claims to be building a bright new social democracy that should be supported by all entrepreneurs. These contradictory messages serve the suspicions on the right that ‘he has a hidden radical agenda’ and on the left that he turning Podemos – which initially presented itself as a radical new grassroots movement – into a traditional parliamentary party. This view is confirmed by Iglesias himself, who declared after the election that ‘we have been partisans and now its time to turn into a regular army’. He went as far as to say Podemos’s leaders  had been naïve in their youth when they thought the struggle was on the streets. He has stressed that Podemos is all about opening up ‘a new social democratic space’ and creating a serious parliamentary alternative to the conservative PP. But In a neat game of semantics aimed at reassuring his left-wing allies, he claims that Marx and Engels had been, after all, ‘social democrats’, ignoring the completely different meaning of the label at the time.

Inevitably, the media has played a major role in undermining the Unidos Podemos alliance. The alliance seemed to be doing well before the June elections, but a few weeks before the poll the media bombarded people with news about Greek misery and Venezuelan scarcity, drawing similarities with what could happen to Spain if ‘extremists’ seized power.

Meanwhile, political repression against all emerging resistance to austerity measures continues. In the first seven months since the Law of Citizen Security was approved, 40,000 fines have been imposed. Nearly 30 people a day are fined for ‘disrespecting the security forces’, with penalties between €100 and €600,000. The arrests continue, targeting activists under false accusations and without evidence.

It now looks likely that Mariano Rajoy and the right-wing will form a minority government. They control the senate and will be free to pass more reactionary laws. While the Socialist Party says it will not support Rajoy’s swearing into office, it may well abstain rather than oppose it. The Socialists support EU austerity policies and are likely to vote in support of the further cuts and attacks on the working class Rajoy has promised to introduce to reduce the deficit to what is acceptable to Brussels.

It is more necessary than ever to reinforce the struggle from below and social organisation on the streets, as well as building up pressure on the new municipal representatives from a range of new left-wing coalitions to take radical steps and stand up to austerity and repression.


Spain: new elections same old austerity

Mariano Rajoy

On 26 June, Spain will hold its second general election in six months, after the failure of the various parties to establish a coalition government following December’s poll. Although all the parties say they want ‘change’, their rhetoric continues to bow before the economic line decided by European imperialist institutions. The turmoil created by constant cases of corruption, repression of social movements and distrust between parties has created general disaffection and the slow polarisation of society. This time round, left-wing organisations have reached a 50-point agreement and will form a joint candidature, which may well put them in second place in the new elections.

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Spain: political parties tussle over way forward 

On 20 December 2015 Spain’s general election resulted in an unprecedented situation where no party gained a clear majority. The conservatives of the Partido Popular (PP) got 28.72% of the votes while the social democrats of the Socialist Party (PSOE) received a 22.02% share. Some new parties entered the parliament, in particular the right-wing Ciudadanos, (13.93%) and the social-democrats of Podemos (12.67%). The various parties trade accusations on a daily basis and hold tense negotiations but the result remains uncertain. Meanwhile, Catalonian parties have reached a last-minute agreement to establish a regional government which will pursue independence. However its stability is still in doubt after several months of negotiations. Contradictions arise and a complex time lies ahead, making it difficult to predict whether austerity policies will continue or whether there is a chance for change. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

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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.

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