Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Whither PSOE? Whither Armengol?

So, what now? President Armengol was one of a group of five PSOE delegates from the Balearics who were humbled along with Pedro Sánchez on Saturday. Armengol, the only regional leader to have backed Sánchez, is even more out on a limb than before. She will have been thankful for the reassuring presence among the five of former president Francesc Antich. He is to join the "management" committee that will now attempt to sort out the mess of the vote against Sánchez and his resignation. Antich is saying the same things as Armengol. The "militants", i.e. the party's grassroots, need to vote on the future. He couldn't say anything else. Nor could Armengol.

He is also saying, as indeed are others, that it isn't a foregone conclusion that there will be a PSOE abstention which allows the investiture of Mariano Rajoy. The Partido Popular has not, according to some in PSOE, done anything to make PSOE confident in abstaining or creating a most unlikely coalition. The federal committee will decide whether there is to be an abstention, and it has so far said "no" to Rajoy.

If this continues to be the case, then one wonders quite what getting rid of Sánchez will have achieved. The party may have been suffering poor results under him, but the impression was that this wasn't the sole reason for his having been given a vote of no confidence. The talk had been of the committee moving in favour of an abstention. Because of all that happened, no such debate took place, and the committee seems unlikely to reconvene until after the middle of the month.

The situation is now even more confused than it was. If there were to be a decision in favour of abstention, things would then need to move extremely quickly so that there could be an as yet hypothetical second attempt at a Rajoy investiture. The deadline is 31 October. No government by then, and the King will dissolve parliament and there will be another election. For PSOE, given its turmoil, this would be the last thing it wants. Or you would think so. There might be a hope that with a different person at the top, there will be a bounce in the polls. Equally, there could be even greater carnage. Would that mean Podemos benefiting? Possibly, but Podemos has its own division. The electorate may decide in any event to put an end to all the nonsense and turn to the PP in far greater number.

Given all this confusion, it's hard to really say how the Balearic government will be affected in the short term. On the face of things, Armengol finds herself in a weaker position than the already weak one that she was in prior to Sanchez's resignation. Everything, as far as the "pact" for her government is concerned, would seem to hinge on the abstention decision. If Rajoy is allowed in by PSOE, all bets might well be off. By having aligned herself firmly with Sánchez and against the abstention decision, Armengol will be hoping that the pact doesn't rupture.

Meanwhile, she is faced by the thorny issue of the 2017 budget. Questions have been raised, not least by the Balearic PP, about the willingness of Podemos to support it. The government is obliged to keep within deficit limits and so therefore not overspend or over borrow, but with the ongoing chaos at national level - now made even more chaotic - Podemos (and Més) might press for a deficit-busting budget, something that Armengol and her finance minister Catalina Cladera would surely not sanction: there are consequences to consider.

If Podemos were to decide to break the pact, life would obviously become even more difficult for Armengol. And then there's Més, with only one seat fewer (nine) than Podemos. PSOE with fourteen of the 59 seats would be unable to do anything, unless there was a pact with the PP. Armengol would never countenance that. Would she? The situation in Castile-La Mancha, where the PP offered support to PSOE after Podemos broke a pact of government there, hardly offers a precedent. The PP's leader in Castile-La Mancha has lamented the fact that the offer was greeted with insult and discrediting. Forget the PP coming to the aid of Armengol in the Balearics; it simply won't happen.

The possibility exists, therefore, for an almost total state of stasis taking hold with the Balearic government. But there is another scenario. Podemos might just decide that the time will have come for it to formally join the government. God knows what that might mean for ministerial positions, but if it were the best chance that Armengol has for carrying on, then who knows - maybe a Podemos finance minister.

If you thought that things were complicated before, they are about to become even more complicated.

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