Spain: political manoeuvres ensure further austerity

On 27 October 2016, after 314 days of vacillation and two general elections, the Spanish Parliament voted in the conservative Mariano Rajoy as prime minister. The reelection of the People’s Party (PP) candidate was made possible only by the abstention of the social democratic politicians of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who claimed they had a responsibility to prevent the country being forced into a third general election. The European Commission immediately demanded new measures to reduce Spain’s deficit, which will inevitably lead to more cuts and more precarious working conditions. With the PSOE wounded and the left-wing Podemos restructuring its strategy, the stability of Rajoy’s new Brussels-friendly cabinet is yet to be tested. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid. 

After the severe crisis in the PSOE (see FRFI 253), its leader Pedro Sanchez was forced to step down at the beginning of October over his refusal to endorse Rajoy as prime minister. Despite groups of militant activists protesting outside the PSOE headquarters, on 24 October the PSOE Federal Committee decided to allow the conservative pro-austerity and corrupt PP to gain office by abstaining in the parliamentary vote. Even so, 15 PSOE deputies voted against the motion to invest Rajoy as prime minister in defiance of the leadership. A number of them now face disciplinary measures. On 29 October, the final results were announced, with the support of the right-wing Ciudadanos party helping Rajoy garner 170 votes; there were 111 votes against and 68 abstentions.

Tens of thousands of people joined a protest near the Parliament denouncing a ‘coup against democracy’, despite the attempts of government officials and the media to dissuade them with statements warning of ‘radical groups’, and a large deployment of riot police to counter them on the day. Meanwhile in the Parliament, the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, ironically declared that the police presence made no sense as ‘there are more potential criminals inside this chamber than outside’. 

During the months of impasse, Mariano Rajoy had reassured the EU that if he succeeded in eventually being elected, his cabinet would adjust the budget and comply with policies to reduce the deficit. On 20 October he had informal talks about the political situation with some European leaders at the EU summit in Brussels. After discussions, the European Commission had decided not to fine Spain and Portugal for failing to meet their deficit targets. On 26 October, as soon as the PSOE decision to abstain made it clear what the outcome would be, the European Commission issued a demand for a commitment from the Spanish government to reduce the deficit from 3.6% to 3.1% of GDP in 2017. The road is paved for new cuts in social welfare, courtesy of a minority government eager to please European pro-austerity policy-makers.

Mariano Rajoy received praise and support from political and market leaders on becoming prime minister. With Francois Hollande of France on his way out and Britain’s Theresa May entangled in handling Brexit, Angela Merkel sees him as an obedient follower. At the multilateral EU summit on 18 November, she declared that from an economic point of view ‘Spain walks on a very positive path’. US president Barack Obama also expressed his relief at Spain’s resolution of its political quandary.

The mainstream media has played a major role during this period in manipulating and misleading public opinion. Prior to the election, there were daily, exaggerated reports on the economic crisis in Venezuela, drawing unfounded parallels with the ‘threat’ posed by Podemos. Since the election, other tactics have been used to undermine the emerging party. The media dwells on nebulous threats of ‘terrorist activity’ as a way of turning public opinion against certain groups, and of deflecting attention from anything that might embarrass the government or the state.  A pub fight in which two men were beaten who turned out to be police officers resulted in nine people being arrested and described as Basque promoters of terrorist attacks. When former president Felipe Gonzalez and a media magnate were due to speak at a university in Madrid, the event was cancelled as students peacefully picketed the hall shouting chants about their involvement in state terrorism. The media portrayed the students as radical and violent extremists and claimed Podemos was behind them. On 23 November, the former mayor of Valencia, the PP senator Rita Barberá, who had been involved in several cases of corruption, and had appeared before the court a few days earlier to testify about PP corruption died from a heart attack in a five-star hotel close to the Senate. Although her party had previously tried to distance itself from her, the media’s main concern was to lambast Podemos for the absence of its members in the Congress during a minute of silence for her.

In the long electoral campaign Podemos has tried to gain votes from a broad spectrum of society. The two mainstream leaders accuse the party of being two-faced, on the one hand presenting a confrontational left-wing attitude, to appeal to activists and grassroots movements, and on the other promoting themselves as a respectable new social democratic party, appealing to the general disenchantment that is seeking a ‘reasonable’ solution far from radicalism. The media tries to stir one faction against the other, reporting alleged divisions within the Podemos coalition.  Podemos says it aims to combine pressure within official political institutions institutions with dynamic branch work in the communities. However, it has shown itself at times to be changeable and opportunistic, and many grassroots groups are mistrustful of being under its umbrella. These groups are the ones that continue to build in the struggle for decent housing; who fight against TIPP, demonstrated against sexist violence on 25 November, will march for social services and against capitalism on 3 December and so on. These forces are searching for an alternative to strengthen the links between these struggles, rather than blindly relying on a political party that shows signs of steadily becoming an integral part of the political system.

 

 

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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