Monday, December 19, 2016

Re-Election?: It's All About Stability

Ask a footballer or football manager if they have thought about winning the league or the cup (whichever leagues or cups these might be), and the stock response is we're taking each game as it comes. This is of course nonsense. Winning something is the be-all and end-all, albeit that making stacks of money is equally a be and an end. But having the next game to take allows the footballing fraternity to at least attempt to convey an impression of not getting ahead of itself. The same cannot be said for politicians.

Put a question about winning the election to an incumbent regional president in Spain (or political leader anywhere), and there aren't intervening milestones with which to deflect the question. There is only one goal - winning the next election - and the answer isn't going to be anything else.

Francina Armengol would like to believe that she and her chums in PSOE will win the regional election in 2019. Given that she didn't actually win the 2015 election (in terms of number of votes, share of votes or seats in parliament), her optimism might seem slightly misplaced. Moreover, she would turn Balearic PSOE history on its head, were she to be returned as president; a PSOE-led administration has never secured a second term.

PSOE-led is the important bit. PSOE has had to form pacts in order to get its collective size nines under the desks of power. The main difference with the current one is that it is exclusively a pact of the left; the two previous administrations were not. It is also a pact, as if we needed reminding, based on consensus and dialogue. And if we do need reminding, then Francina will gladly oblige - over and over and over again.

This constant mantra serves to paper over the cracks, the very ones that existed at the time that the pact was formed. It is also one which acknowledges, without this being expressly stated, that the two previous pacts may have had dialogue but certainly didn't always have consensus. The presence of the rightist Unió Mallorquina, which had its particular agenda against the PSM (now the main force in Més), was a guarantee of some conflict. With their competing versions of Mallorcan (Balearic) nationalism - one from the right, one from the left - they were never natural allies. Yet curiously, if one looks back at the defeat of the first pact in 2003, one finds that there was one issue on which these two parties mainly saw eye to eye - the ecotax.

While the tax didn't lose Francesc Antich and PSOE the election in spring 2003, the disagreements that it had provoked did affect the electorate's perception of the pact. The circumstances, in a tourism sense, were quite different when the tax was approved in 2001. Mallorca was facing stiff competition and there was a sense of crisis. To compound this, there was to be 9/11. The UM kept up the appearance of support for the tax, while the PSM (strange though it will seem now) lost total confidence in it. Moreover, PSOE itself was split. Joan Mesquida, the finance minister, wanted it to be delayed. In the end, it came into effect, as had been planned, on 1 May 2002.

The memory of this helps to explain the clinging to the life-raft of the new ecotax. Armengol insists there is consensus, despite this time PSOE having been the reluctant party, whereas it had driven the old ecotax. It is vital, therefore, for there to be a perception of unanimity if Armengol is to have a chance of obtaining a second term. But such a perception is made difficult because of the turmoil within one of the parties, i.e. Podemos.

In 2011, José Ramón Bauzá and the PP just needed to turn up in order to win. Economic crisis did for the second Antich administration, but there were other factors, notably the collapse in a corrupt heap of the UM, thrown out of the pact by Antich. Although the circumstances are very different, Armengol stresses the "stability" of the pact, knowing that instability contributed to the loss in 2011. She needs Podemos to hold together, much though Podemos make her life awkward. Otherwise, things are at present going well for her - the economy is sound and the PP in the Balearics is still in some disarray: without a permanent leader and with arguments between factions, of which Bauzá forms one. If, between now and the 2019 election, she can secure a new and favourable financing deal from Madrid for the Balearics, this would be a huge election advantage.

The election is a long way off, but some of the signs are currently in favour of Armengol and a second term. One thing she probably won't have to worry about is the tourist tax.

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