Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Spain's Government: What Now?

Among the numerous party leaders and spokespeople who had their say in the investiture debate last Friday, there was one who would have been largely unknown, not just to anyone from outside Spain but to many within it. This was Iñigo Alli. He was speaking for the Unión del Pueblo Navarro, a regional party that has two deputies in Congress. Alli's intervention would not have been considered important, but amid the fractiousness of the occasion his words were measured and telling. He concluded by observing that over a period of 75 days the main political parties had been incapable of arriving at a solution for government. He urged them to now conduct themselves with humility and generosity in seeking such a solution. They were words that could have been spoken by millions who have no wish for an election re-run and who are growing weary of this very incapability.

There is no denying that the election on 20 December brought about massive upheaval. A PSOE spokesperson in Mallorca, Cosme Bonet, has rightly noted that the consequence of the vote in December requires a new form of analysis: the established way and order was cast asunder five days before Christmas. It was perhaps too much to anticipate that 75 days would be sufficient to arrive at this new analysis. But the question then arises as to how long should be sufficient. If no accord is reached by the start of May, there will be a further hiatus of 54 days before a new election, and it would hold no guarantee of any significant voting change or of creating the means for there to be accord. For month after endless month Spain would be under limbo-government with a nominal administration and an equally nominal opposition.

Faced with this absurdity, humility and generosity are indeed needed. But a pact with such saintly virtues seems as distant as it has been for the now four score days since the election. Given the positions stated and postures adopted during the investiture debates, there seems as if there can be only outcome. Notwithstanding the belief that accommodation can be made with Pedro Sánchez and Albert Rivera held by Mariano Rajoy, whose posturing was as unseemly as anyone's and was an affront to the post that he occupies, neither PSOE nor Ciudadanos (C's) appear inclined to wish to make such accommodation. The only game left in town - for Sánchez - is Podemos.

When the press provide, as they have been for several weeks, their graphics of how different pact permutations would look, these gloss over the enormous complexities of the 20 December upheaval. The media, both in Spain and overseas, can oversimplify a situation that is vastly more nuanced than is suggested by adjectives applied to political parties. In this facile framework, Podemos is constantly referred to as "anti-austerity". It is, but the very use of this discards everything else that it represents. It isn't totally meaningless, but if there were to be simplistic adjectival usage for each party, then why are the C's not given the adjective anti-Catalonian independence? This is a policy every bit as central to the C's narrative as the dismantling of austerity economics is to Podemos.

The Catalonia question is just one that hovers in a Damocles fashion above those who would be in power, an ever-presence prepared to strike and cut limbs from a body for government being crafted like some Frankenstein's monster. Pablo Iglesias of Podemos referred to there being no monsters in his ranks, but there are several monsters of policy constantly poised to render a beast of governmental agreement lifeless. The invective directed at Rivera and the C's over the Catalonia question cannot suddenly be forgotten or forgiven.

PSOE, the C's and Podemos need each other, but they will be unable to arrive at a deal unless there is some humility and generosity. An accord with Sánchez is not impossible - Podemos acolytes made that clear - but how might it come about? There may end up having to be some issues on which they will agree to disagree, such as Catalonia. Podemos hasn't got this far to now spurn the opportunity of influencing national policies, and so one suspects that there may well be a tripartite agreement similar to that which exists in the Balearics. Podemos would commit to a series of policies for a "government of change" but would stay out of the government as such.

Such an arrangement is not working wholly satisfactorily in the Balearics, but it was one which recognised that upheaval to the established way and order had occurred. It is one by which Podemos is not directly accountable or responsible for government, but under the new analysis that Bonet has called for, there is arguably something to commend it. Anything has to be better than the current state of non-government. Doesn't it?

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