Spain: Socialist Party in crisis as right-wing government is formed

nov-2016-iglesiasBy LAZARO MONTEVERDE

After over 315 days of political stalemate, the right-wing Partido Popular [PP] has regained control in Spain with the tacit support of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party [PSOE]. The vote to form the new government took place in two stages, the first on Oct. 27 and the second on Oct. 29, just days before the Oct. 31 deadline that would have resulted in a mandatory and unprecedented third national election in one year.

In the first vote, the PP needed an absolute majority, which it and its coalition partners did not have. In the second vote, they needed a majority of those voting. After an internal crisis and the ouster of their leader, the socialists voted to abstain in the second vote, thus allowing the Partido Popular to form the government.

The second vote was 170 in favor, including 137 votes from the PP, 32 votes from its coalition partner Ciudadanos, and one vote from the regional Canarias party. As planned, 68 Socialists abstained while 111 voted against, including all representatives from Podemos and all the representatives from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is affiliated with the PSOE. Shortly before the vote, the former General Secretary of the PSOE, Pedro Sanchez, resigned his seat in the Cortes rather than support the PP.

The PP is now free to push through the austerity plan demanded by the European Union [EU], which states that Spain must cut its budget deficit to meet EU targets. To do so will require more cuts to social services and education.

The EU is also demanding further consolidation of the Spanish banking system and the elimination of certain labor laws that protect Spanish workers. These will not be easy goals to accomplish, given the broken two-plus party system in Spain.

Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the PP and the person who was acting president during the last 10 months, has promised to compromise and negotiate with the other parties in the Cortes. In the past, he has shown little interest in compromise and he has pushed through austerity measures demanded by the EU with an iron resolve. The PP also plans on “revising” the pension system, but has presented no detailed plans on how it intends to do so.

The new government faces a resurgent Catalan independence movement. The Catalan government plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2017. The left-populist party Podemos backs the referendum, as does a broad spectrum of the Catalan parties, from left to right. In September, over 800,000 Catalans marched in favor of independence.

An internal crisis within the PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, provided the PP with the opportunity it needed. On Oct. 1 the general secretary of the PSOE, Pedro Sanchez, was forced to resign by the party’s federal (national) committee. Sanchez had refused to abstain on any votes to install a PP government. While the majority of the federal committee and the national leadership of the PSOE wanted to compromise (read: capitulate) with the PP, Sanchez still retained significant support. In all, 133 members of the Federal Committee voted against his proposal to hold internal party elections for the post of general secretary while 109 members voted in favor of his proposal. The majority feared that a new election would result in continued losses for the PSOE.

After resigning his seat in congress on the eve of the investiture vote, Sanchez said he would get in his car and travel the country talking with party activists. It is clear to all observers in Spain that the PSOE is now in crisis and is split at least three ways. First, the Catalan Socialist Party has broken from the PSOE over its support for the PP and the issue of Catalan independence. Second, there is a split within the Federal Committee. Third, there is a clear split between the party activists, most of whom oppose any kind of support for the PP, and the party leadership.

The PSOE has little internal party democracy and has not had party primaries to select candidates and leaders. A person becomes a candidate or part of the leadership by being recruited by the existing leaders, as in a corporate board of directors. The Spanish refer to the leadership as the “nomenclatura,” a word that was once popular in the Soviet Union to denote the ruling bureaucratic layer. The nomenclatura has acted as a kind of top-down management of the Socialist Party and forms its most conservative and authoritarian segment. In light of the abstentions, the PSOE has lost considerable standing as an opposition party to the PP.

The big winner is perhaps the left-populist party Podemos. Podemos refused to negotiate with the PP. It proposed an electoral coalition in opposition to austerity with the PSOE and Ciudadanos, an anti-corruption capitalist party. But both parties rejected the proposal, and Ciudadanos formed a coalition with the PP.

Podemos has been clear on its support of regional autonomy and the right to independence for the Basque Country and the Catalan region. Podemos is now only a few percentage points behind the PSOE in polls, and has positioned itself as the only significant political force opposed to austerity and the attacks on workers rights.

But Podemos may not be able to take advantage of the crisis within the PSOE, as it faces its own internal crisis. Currently, there is a power struggle between Pablo Iglesias, the general secretary of Podemos, and the number-two leader of the party. In addition, a significant dissident current has emerged from within Podemos that is demanding greater internal party democracy and inclusiveness.

The situation remains fluid, and only time and the Spanish people will determine the outcome of the current political crisis. While the right has regained control, their power has never been more fragile since the end of the Franco dictatorship 40 years ago.

Photo: Pablo Iglesias, general secretary of Podemos.