"Habemus presidentum” 10 months later


After two general elections and 10 additional months of an institutional break, the president of the government in Spain has finally been determined. On Saturday, October 29th, at the Congress of Deputies, Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) was elected president with 170 votes in favor, 111 against, and 68 abstentions. This seems to conclude an unprecedented period in Spanish politics. Never before have so many elements been at play at the same time. Let us review them.

Two years ago, in 2014, a new period began in Spanish politics when a new political party appeared on the scene, 'Podemos' (‘We Can’), which claimed itself to be the successor of the 15-M.

The demonstrations of May 15th, 2011, which unfolded according to the typical model of color revolution, occupied first the ‘Puerta del Sol’ in Madrid, a very emblematic square in Spain, and set up camp there to protest against politicians. At first, this seemed to be a very spontaneous revolt, the result of general anger against politicians and corruption schemes. But this event was mainly seized upon by leftist groups and ended in marginalization and disappeared. So it seemed, until a group of university professors appeared, led by Pablo Iglesias, and released their new project. The project suddenly and rapidly enjoyed an immense rise but, like 15-M, for being so supposedly anti-system, they enjoyed incredible attention from the official media without which, so widely spread in such little time, it would have been hard or almost impossible for them to achieve so much.

Suddenly, there also appeared ‘Ciudadanos’ ('Citizens'), the right-wing counterpart, and its elevation to the national arena as a party which had until then only ran in the regional elections of Catalonia. This party is headed by Albert Rivera, who became known for his constitutionalist defense in the regional parliament of Catalonia and lack of restraint towards political corruption and towards separatism. Thus, there were two young politicians, both about 30 years old, leading two new political parties.

For its part, the Socialist Party (PSOE), after a severe election crisis in 2011, ended up choosing a new party leader in 2014, Pedro Sanchez. This middle-aged figure was chosen so as not to give an excessively young or excessively old image, so that the party would not be branded as novice or 'old politics'. This formula seemed to give renewed vigor to the old party, but did not get the political comeback that they thought. In the general election, in both elections of December 20th 2015 and June 26th 2016, PSOE obtained its worst electoral results yet (90 and 85 seats respectively). The territorial leaders of the PSOE increasingly requested that Pedro Sanchez abstain and leave to govern the PP of Mariano Rajoy, because a third election would be even more catastrophic for the PSOE. Pedro Sanchez kept his 'resounding no' to abstain, until he was expelled and replaced by a temporary administration directed by Javier Fernandez. The temporary administration said that they would abstain and would leave to govern the PP, but in turn, this decision brought internal divisions because some members of the PSOE were in complete disagreement. Even so, 68 of the 85 deputies of PSOE abstained in the voting on October 29th.

But the crisis in the PSOE did not end there. On the morning of the same October 29th, Pedro Sanchez, the former head of the PSOE, resigned from his post of deputy and said that he would be running in the primary elections of the PSOE to return to be its head and "recover the party for its militants". This bombshell news left three factions in the PSOE: the officials, the dissidents, and Pedro Sanchez.

In this situation began the seemingly most difficult legislature since the approval of the Constitution of 1978. First of all, with a one-party government of the PP, which has little more than 1/3 of the deputies, it needs the support of 'Ciudadanos' and the support or abstention of the PSOE to approve new laws. The first legislative test of the government will be the approval of the general budget for 2017.

It is difficult to predict whether the legislature will last 4 years or whether it will finish earlier and abruptly. In principle, given Mariano Rajoy's character as someone with a lot of passivity or patience (depending how you understand these), the legislature will last the full 4 years, until the very last day. Remember that, although the government cannot approve proposed laws on its own, whoever holds the government also controls many state institutions, including the administration, the police, the army, etc, and can take part in the appointment of other important state institutions.

It is difficult to predict what else could shake or topple the government of Rajoy for the next 4 years. Since numerous cases of corruption have taken their toll, they already seem forgotten in the face of something apparently worse, which is the lack of government in Spain. It is also true that the other parties to a greater or lesser extent have also had their own corruption schemes, their appointments of family and friends for charges of free designation, and their contracts given to their relatives, etc.

Perhaps the so-called "separatist challenge" from the Catalan regional government will be the main challenge that the government of Spain could face. Such a separatist challenge began to play a serious role in 2010 with the former regional president, Artur Mas, from CiU (Convergencia i Unio). The separatist challenge not only cost the presidential post of Artur Mas, but also brought on the electoral debacle of his party, CiU, and, most importantly, a huge case of corruption and misuse of funds was uncovered. The main suspect accused was the former regional president of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol. This case also splattered the Pujol family, whose members were involved in one way or another in the diversion of public funds to family accounts in tax havens. Pujol, the former 'very honorable' president, the symbol of the Catalan nationalism of the CiU, suddenly became the symbol of Catalan nationalist looting. Whereupon now, the situation seems like a game to see who goes out first, either the Spanish president of government, Mariano Rajoy (again), or the Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont. Both presidencies, with an undercurrent of exposed corruption, have limited or very limited political credibility. And again, it seems that Rajoy is waiting for the CiU to force new early elections for the third time (since 2010 elections were held in 2012 and 2015) in which they will, once again, get another bad result, since the separatist drift has not only reduced the CiU's voters, but even caused its split into two parties: CDC (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) and UDC (Democratic Union of Catalonia). In fact the CDC now has only 8 seats in the Congress of Deputies (in 2011, the CiU won 16).

Moreover, there is always the watchful eye of the European Union to tell the Spanish government what to do, regardless of which party is governing.

With the EU, the Popular Party has the better excuse to justify its policies of cuts in Spain: "Europe orders it", they say. And thus they expect the Spanish people to forgive them and keep voting for them. Of course, if any party stands against the policies of the EU, those parties that now excuse their policies of cuts by orders from the EU will lament a lot, because "Euro-scepticism" is growing in Spain.