As expected the General Election in Spain, the fourth in four years (I previously reported it was five in that time, having forgotten that on one occasion when a government collapsed The King refused to dissolve parliament and appointed a new government.) Each of these elections has failed to produce an assembly from which a ruling coalition could be formed … and the one appointed by the king fared no better, and for what? The Socialist government which became the largest party but with no majority in April this year, after heading a minority government formed when a political stitch up removed the previous administration (the one the king appointed,) could pass no legislation because the coalition parties could not agree any policies, only succeeded in moving the former dictator General Franco from his gloomy mausoleum near Madrid, jailed Catalan independence leaders, opened the borders to undocumented migrants (by executive order,) and, in total disarray, told voters to try again for the second time in seven months.
The historic nation has not had an effective government since 2014 . Following the latest inconclusive exercise in how not to do democracy, the Socialist party is likely to stay in power, but having been weakened in the latest vote will probably be even less effective.
Pedro Sanchez, the Socialist who remains prime minister until a new government is formed, is doing that politician thing of appearing full of confidence and declaring victory.
“We’ve won the election and we’re going to work for a progressive government,” he told party party members in Madrid as the results were announced last Sunday night. But his position has been weakened in a national assembly that looks more polarised, fragmented and politically paralysed than before. So what are the wider lessons of this latest election debacle?
Like Boris Johnson in the UK, Sanchez led a government that did not have a majority to pass its legislative program, could find no majority for any of the available options, was opposed by parties that would not call a vote of no confidence and force an election and in the end felt he had no way forward but to submit his government to the tender mercies of voters.
While he remains the most likely candidate for prime minister the election has again has failed to resolve the political crisis in the Eurozone’s fourth-largest economy after an election in which mainstream and pro – EU parties all lost more ground, regional independence movements gained or lost marginally but the real winner was Vox, the far-right force that has more than doubled its seats in parliament to become the Spain’s third-biggest party.
Some commentators have compared Vox to the Falangist movement headed by Franco, which may be a tad unfair as Franco took control of Spain after a bloody civil war, but perhaps Sanchez has only himself to blame, raising the ghost of Franco by exhuming his remains when the threat of separatism, particularly in Catalonia, the nation’s most populous and prosperous region, and the inept and unnecessarily brutal attempt of the Madrid government to suppress such movements, has triggered talk of a drift towards civil war.
The Socialists topped the poll for the second time this year — but fell 56 seats short of a majority in parliament, while other party of the traditional duopoly, the conservative Popular Party gained 22 seats on their lowest ever return back in April but still has less than half the number needed to rule on its own.
This fourth inconclusive election in as many years shows how traditional parties of Left and Right, which dominated Spanish politics for four decades after the restoration of democracy in the mid -seventies, are floundering as voters show their opposition to the surrender of national sovereignty to unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels and new, nationalistic parties rise around them. The two parties which used to routinely scoop up eight in 10 votes at elections collected less than half the total vote on November 10. Three parties were fighting for votes on the Right and three more on the Left.
Spain is far from unique. Political duopolies are being ripped apart across Europe as traditional parties struggle to retain power. We saw this in Britain two years ago when Prime Minister Theresa May threw away the Conservative majority, leaving her forced to bribe Northern Ireland’s regional group Democratic Unionist Party to stay in Downing Street, and then a few months later in Germany, when the main parties suffered their worst results for almost seven decades. These historic political consensus pairings are struggling as nationalism rises on the right, identity politics consumes much of the Left and technology is used by rogue players to disrupt election campaigns. Economic austerity and environmental issues are also reshaping and further polarising political landscapes. In Germany, political fragmentation means 13 different coalitions govern its 16 federal states.
Spain’s recent election has simply fuelled the uncertainty that has paralyzed the nation for five years. Parties on the Left won 158 seats, while the Right took a combined 150 seats, leaving both significantly short of a majority. Sanchez looks the most likely prime minister but creating a functioning coalition appears harder than before. “Forming a government looked complicated in April – now it is an inscrutable hieroglyph,” was the El Pais verdict.
It will probably once again take months to sort a coalition deal and form a government which is likely to last less time than it takes to put together, yet such political gridlocks are becoming commonplace in European democracies. Belgium famously went 541 days without a functioning government after an election in June 2010 and in reality has never had a satable government since then. More recently, Holland and Sweden have endured months of tortuous negotiation, virtue signalling and posturing as parties of the old neoliberal consensus tried to excuse their contempt for democracy by smearing nationalist parties as racist, fascist and far right to justify refusing to work with the representatives voters have elected after inconclusive elections.
Meanwhile Britain’s election due on December 12 is intended to break a Brexit logjam that has stymied parliament for over three years, reflecting the divisions in the country inflamed by the 2016 referendum — some fear it could prove as inconclusive the Spanish contest, although it looks as if the left wing Labour Party, changed from a centre left working class party to a far left party of lwyers, academics and intellectuals has succeeded so comprehensively in alienating its core voters it may suffer a crushing defeat, thus leaving us in the democratically unhealthy position of having only one credible political party.
This is not to say the Conservatives are fit to govern the nation, their current showing at the top of opinon polls with double figure leads is due more to Labour’s ineptitude than Conservatives’ inspiring leadership.
There have been some suggestions in mainstream media recently that Europe had reached peak populism after liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova became Slovakia’s first female president, the Austrian right wing Freedom Party crashed after being snared in a corruption scandal, and the hugely popular nationalist League in Italy, led by charismatic Matteo Salvini, was thrown out of government in a shamefully undemocratic stitch up organised by the EU. But in regional election results over the past few weeks have seen the anti-immigrant Alternative fur Deutschland chalk up some of its best ever results in German state elections and now this astonishing surge by the truly right – wing (but not fascist,)Vox Party in Spain. Santiago Abascal has established Vox as a significant force in Spain after winning more than 15% of the vote, making the party the third largest in Spain.
Vox exploited the tensions over Catalonia with calls for a tough response, appealing to young male voters, while polling showed a rise in support when Franco’s remains were finally exhumed last month. Vox is an ultra-conservative force, defending bull-fighting while attacking political correctness, but like other populist parties, it ramps up hostility to migration as seen in its calls for a wall around Spanish enclaves in north Africa. “We have managed to open up all the prohibited debates,” said Abascal.
The fall of left wing Eurosceptic party Podemos is especially fascinating, not only does it mirror the rise of Vox, it also serves as a demonstration of what happens when ideological purity confronts the pragmatism of everyday politics. Podemos emerged five-years ago, at the start of Spain’s era of instability, spawned by huge anti-austerity protests in a massively indebted nation against austerity measures imposed from Brussels by the EU as a condition of continued support for Spain’s ailing economy. In truth Spain had been badly hit by the financial meltdown that followed the crisis of 2008, and by the bursting of a housing bubble inflated by EU policies. The country still suffers very high youth unemployment. Pablo Iglesias, the charismatic, pony-tailed leader of Podemos, promised to transform politics and came close to stealing the crown of Spain’s left from Sanchez. Then came infighting, fragmentation and bitter rows over compromises in local government. Now the party looks significantly diminished, but is still significant enough to prevent the traditional pr – EU socialists from grabbing control of the country and selling it out to those EU leaders who have been pushing for the creation of a single European federal superstate.
Spain may be looking inwards, focused on its domestic problems but to an outsider commentating on the bigger picture it serves as a bellweather state for the future of the EU, because apart from the EU member states already mentioned in this article, the European Union, while blindly singing the refrain of “ever closer integration,” is riven with cultural, economic and social divisions as a result of trying to force multiculturalism on 28 (soon to be 27) diverse nations. If you have ever bought clothes sold as “one size fits all” you might be aware that such garments actually fit few people well and simply look ridiculous on most. It’s the same with cultures, values and policies. A single economic policy, for example, is hardly going to cover the needs of mighty Germany while simultaneously serving little Malta well.
Thus, unless the EU backs off its goal of “ever closer integration” until all member states are merged into a single political entity, it mut disintegrate in chaos, causing unthinkable harm to the national communities of its member states.