Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Contempt: Parliament and government

The question arises. Or should do. How often has it been asked? And what have been the answers? It needs asking. If there is another general election - probably on 26 June - if the result were much the same as the 20 December election and if there were to be no agreement for government after 26 June, would there be a third election in a further six months time? One would assume that there would be, and that they would carry on having elections until someone finally blinks or they all decide that things have become rather silly. Or maybe they would just carry on and on, elections being held in perpetuity, the Partido Popular remaining in nominal power, Mariano Rajoy being acting premier until the day comes when he keels over.

The question may not have to be put, if they can come up with an agreement. But how can they? If you've lost track of where we are or indeed lost the will to live on account of the never-breaking saga, then here's a reminder as to why they are unable to.

PSOE wants Podemos to back it and the C's. Podemos won't do so. It says no to the C's. They are not "progressive". They are not left-wing. They have no truck with a Catalonia referendum.

The Partido Popular seems prepared to offer Pedro Sánchez the vice-presidency of a coalition government (to include the C's) with Mariano Rajoy remaining number one. PSOE won't accept this. Nor will the C's.

Intractable. That is the problem. Come 2 May, intractable it remains, and there is another election, and all the while the PP and Rajoy are acting. In a semi-permanent state of non-government in which it is now showing contempt. More of this below.

If there is a second election, then the current "pact" between PSOE and the C's would be abandoned. Albert Rivera, the C's leader, has said so. Rivera may be eyeing the polls and seeing his party gaining. Might he therefore contemplate a U-turn and join forces with the PP, which can also point to slight gains (unlike Podemos, which the polls suggest is going backwards)? Never rule anything out, but a U-turn it most certainly would be.

At the last minute, just before the 2 May deadline, might Sánchez and PSOE have a change of heart? Might they say that they have done all they can to bring Podemos into the fold of a "progressive" government. But hard as they have tried, they have been unsuccessful. As a result, and in the interests of the nation (aka citizens), they will agree to a grand coalition with the PP. Never rule anything out, but it would be unlikely, though perhaps less unlikely if Rajoy were to stand aside and let someone else be premier.

Any arrangement that might involve the PP has, though, become even more difficult than it already was. This is because Congress is taking the government (and so the PP) to court. To the Constitutional Court. Why? Because the government, everyone else in Congress says, is in contempt of parliament. Such a contempt charge has never been laid before, but then there has never been a situation as there is at present, with an acting government and an acting premier.

The contempt arises because neither Rajoy nor the defence minister has been prepared to come before Congress to answer questions. The government doesn't need to answer questions and nor should it. The constitution suggests that there can only be questions once a new prime minister has been sworn in, and Rajoy and other ministers are only acting.

It is an extraordinary situation. Rajoy, among other things, has been attending meetings with EU leaders, but he does not have to answer to parliament. At a lesser level of importance, the national finance minister has been talking tough and talking sanctions over the Balearic refusal to amend the deficit - one demanded by a government when it was not acting but now is acting. No wonder the Balearic government has legal services crawling all over the threat. Rajoy and his government maintain that, because of the acting nature of their government, they are answerable to the courts and not parliament itself. Contemptuous? It certainly seems like it.

But might it be said that all the parties and not only the PP are behaving in a contemptuous fashion? Incapable of ironing out differences, stubbornly sticking to the "red lines" which they will not cross, they are bringing the electoral system into contempt. All the while that PSOE fails in brokering a deal, it allows the reviled Rajoy to continue, acting as he apparently seems fit, referring to the courts and not parliament.

The two-party duopoly has been broken, but in its place democracy has created the stasis of contempt: the parties for each other and for the public.

No comments: