Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Citizen Rivera: Spain's general election

He may no longer be part of the Podemos leadership, but Juan Carlos Monedero seems rattled enough to have made his implication of cocaine snorting by the leader of Ciudadanos (the Citizens), Albert Rivera. The C's are rattling along, a poll at the weekend giving them 23% of the vote at the general election on 20 December, four points behind Rajoy and the Partido Popular, three points ahead of Pedro Sánchez and PSOE and almost a whole seven points in front of Monedero's old chum, Pablo Iglesias, and Podemos.

The C's and Podemos are, in a sense, from the same mould, one with democratic regeneration stamped onto it. They both share a dislike of the old, established ways of the two-party dominance of the PP and PSOE. They both abhor corruption. But after these points of similarity, the two diverge. The C's are being cast by the mould as the sensible party, while Podemos can't claim to always make sense.

There is a further similarity. Both made and have made the general election their chief goal. Prior to the regional elections, neither seemed unduly concerned with grabbing power, though Podemos and its various splinter or similar elements - in Madrid and Barcelona for instance - made high-profile gains. In the Balearics we are by now well used to Podemos wielding its power in the wings, determining government policy while remaining out of actual government.

Nevertheless, the eye on the main chance was one that was turned towards December. May was a useful boost to credibility, but the general election has been the ultimate prize. For the C's, they didn't have the same May success in the Balearics. Or anything like it, but they are now running PSOE a close third in the polls, above Podemos.

Congress currently has 350 seats (one says currently as the number can, theoretically, decrease or increase to 300 or 400). What is clear is that no one party is going to form a majority after the election unless something truly dramatic happens (Rajoy promising yet more cuts to income tax might succeed in harnessing increased support but not enough). The poll suggests that the PP will lose around 70 deputies. It would still gain the greatest share of the vote and the most seats, but in order to remain in government, there would have to be a coalition.

The C's might seem the obvious partner. This is a party that is often misrepresented. It isn't left-wing but nor can it be said that it is right-wing. It borrows from both wings, and on one issue - that of Catalonian nationalism - it is firmly on the right. So on nationalism, it is in the PP camp in rejecting independence. It is also perceived as being firmly pro-business. Spain's hoteliers have been "wowed" by Rivera, who has intimated that he would give them the super-reduced IVA (VAT) rate they have been demanding of the PP.

Support for the C's has not solely come from disaffected PP voters, and an understanding of its support is reflected by Podemos: it is too simple to say that they grab from right or left, because they are both generating and have been generating followers across the political spectrum. This support does, though, give the C's its poll rating of 23% share of the vote and between 82 and 84 seats, around 30 fewer than the PP. A coalition between the two would be sufficient to form a government, but would Rivera accept this?

Xavier Pericay, the leader of the C's in the Balearics, consistently said that the party would not enter into a pact after the regional election unless it won the largest share of the vote. It didn't have a cat in hell's chance of doing so, and despite the rising popularity of the C's nationally, nor - at present - does Rivera. It isn't wholly inconceivable that a sudden wave of support would push the C's into first place, but this does seem pretty unlikely. As Rivera has said the same as Pericay, what then would happen?

Into all this, one has to consider Sánchez and PSOE. The poll suggests it would lose some 30 seats, which would represent a total disaster for it, even worse than PSOE. So diminished, it would have to accept any scraps offered, but the C's, even if Rivera were to change his mind, wouldn't be able to scrape together a majority with PSOE. The worst possible outcome, bearing in mind the Balearic experience, would be that Podemos (with a possible 45 seats) enters into a pact with the C's and PSOE. This surely won't and can't happen.

Never say never, should, I guess, be the maxim. Rivera and the C's hold the aces. It might not get the largest share of the vote, but with the PP it could form a government. And the reason for doing so? Step forward, Prime Minister Rivera.

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