Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Party That Was Taken Over

Spain knows a thing or two about the coup d'État. The country knows it as a "golpe de Estado". It knows about failed ones, too. 1981 was the famous one. That of 1982 was less famous. They swept it under the carpet. The failure had occurred on the eve of the general election. It was designed to prevent a socialist government coming to power. Everyone knew that Felipe González would win. Some were determined that he wouldn't.

González duly won the election. He was president (prime minister) for fourteen years. For the most part, these were the glory years for PSOE. They were the glory years for all of Spain's post-1975 democracy. A charismatic leader gave the country hope and pride. It clambered aboard the European gravy train; largesse flowed south in shoring up this nascent, socialist-led democracy - a country undergoing a renaissance.

It ended, as it tends to, in scandal and acrimony. The Partido Popular came to power. When it failed to win in 2004 - a result widely attributed to its mishandling of the Madrid bombs - in came Mister Bean: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Everyone, including himself, was surprised. ZP, a decent, honourable man in a John Major-ineffectual sort of way, was no González, and he was to have his Jim Callaghan moment. Crisis, what crisis. The PSOE government poured money it didn't have into building its way out of the crash. This just made the eventual wreckage worse. ZP departed, to be replaced by Mr. Greybeard, Uncle Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. He never stood a chance. The Rajoy era was to begin.

This background is important in understanding what has been happening over the past few days. Susana Díaz, the Andalusian president, is said to have launched a coup d'État, one designed to bring down Pedro Sánchez. There are different reasons for her having done so, of which her own ambition is just one. The crisis that has engulfed PSOE is attributed to two key factors - its disastrous election results while under Sánchez's watch and its stance over a future government. There are others.

PSOE has never recaptured the glory years. It remains a hostage to the González era. He was the party's figurehead, the national figurehead. It was PSOE who really effected the "transition" in Spain. A coup attempt could not derail that movement. It was a party of its time, but scandal, complacency and uninspiring leadership were to make it a party identified with a corrupt two-party system. The "casta" of PSOE and the PP was all that Podemos really needed. Enter, therefore, the charismatic Pablo Iglesias.

PSOE's polling has been massively affected by the emergence of Podemos and Ciudadanos. The same can be said of the PP, but the PP has remained comparatively strong where PSOE has been enfeebled. But there has been a more fundamental dynamic. PSOE has become a party directed by another - Podemos. Not directly, but its whole thinking is now determined by the factions who are for or against Podemos. It has been taken over by an outside influence. It has become a shell of a party in which even the pro-Podemos faction is uncertain. Sánchez is one of them.

He has vacillated greatly. But at the heart of his latest apparent shift - one in a Podemos direction - is the accusation that enabling the PP to govern would be evidence of the perpetuation of the "casta". He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, because this is where PSOE has ended up: a party no longer in control of its destiny and suffering the collateral damage of ebbing electoral support.

Sánchez threw down the gauntlet last week. There would be "primaries", ostensibly to determine who will lead the party into a third election but manifestly a vote of confidence (or not). Moreover, were Sánchez to carry the day, the quirks of the system might enable him to magic up a pact that would not require an election. The cut-off point, when the King dissolves parliament, is the end of this month. Prime Minister Sánchez might step forward, Pablo Iglesias with his hands on the strings and God alone knows whatever other parties coming along for the ride.

The gauntlet thrown, and executive committee members resigned en masse, their support for him gone. Díaz declared her coup. "Barons" in the party lined up against Sánchez, and the party's past - that hostage - caught up with Sánchez. Felipe González, still exercising great influence, declared that he had been "fooled" by Sánchez. The knife was being twisted and it was being turned in the direction of the "casta".

In the end, it wasn't a vote to abstain to allow Rajoy's investiture that did it. There was to be a show of hands on the holding of a congress, in effect a vote of confidence in Sánchez. He lost. He walked. Whichever way it had gone, Podemos would have succeeded. The party founded by one Pablo Iglesias had been infiltrated by another Pablo Iglesias. Its future has been determined not by it but by an outside force: it was Iglesias who launched the coup. Whether it has a future will be seen. The past week was monumental in deciding its fate.

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