20 December – 26 June: the Spanish journey towards political plurality…and the end of PSOE?

Posted on 20. June 2016

by Germán Jiménez Montes

german-jimenez-montes20 December was indeed a turning point for modern Spanish parliamentarianism, when the journey towards the break with bipartisanism started. Time was then naturally needed to build a new balance of power in a far more pluralist parliament. Thus, the electoral processes of December and June can both be understood as being part of the same voting campaign that is meant to last approximately seven months and whose aftermath has been unavoidable from the beginning: a government coalition. The question is which one.

As expected, the conservatives (PP) won the last elections, although they did not get enough seats to make Mariano Rajoy president again. So they had to look for allies; a difficult task for a party that has been avoiding any contact with the parliament during the past four years.

The Social-Democrats (PSOE) refused from the beginning to reach any agreement if Mariano Rajoy was to become Spain’s president again. ¿Gran Coalición? No, gracias. Alternatively, PSOE’s leader, Pedro Sánchez, tried to be endorsed by Pablo Iglesias (Podemos) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos). That was a hopeless attempt because of the wedge between Podemos and Ciudadanos. Do not count on Iglesias and Rivera working together, at least in the short term; there have been too many clashes since December.

While having elections again was a plausible option before 20 December, a third edition seems extremely unlikely. Growing discontent from voters, pressure from European institutions, and the certainty that new elections would bring similar results force the four main parties to negotiate. Hopefully Spanish democracy will soon have completed its transformation, and Spain will have a coalition government for the first time in its modern history. However, the future of Spain is not the only thing at stake; what will happen to PSOE is not entirely sure either. What can we expect after 26 June?

As Rajoy’s position remains strong despite the corruption scandals plaguing his party, the PP will re-edit their victory; but once again, it will not be enough to govern on their own. Two scenarios arise here. An easier one in which they build a majority with Ciudadanos; that would depend on the results of the young liberal party, which will likely obtain worse results this time, as they are not seen as a real alternative anymore. The second option for the PP will be to lead a great coalition with PSOE. However, this implies the sacrifice of Rajoy, who may be obliged to retire. Paradoxically, the president is the main obstacle for the conservatives, but no one in the PP seems to contest his authority.

PSOE, in the meantime, is having great difficulty in finding its footing in this new political chessboard. This identity crisis of PSOE is inversely proportional to the rise of Podemos, which has lately changed its political discourse and its electoral strategy; their original theses of building a political hegemony based on populism has been substituted by the recognition of the plurality of the left and the need to join forces. Following the successes in Madrid and Barcelona in the 2014 local elections, they have formed an alliance with the communists (Izquierda Unida), the greens (Equo) and other minor forces. This is mirrored in most of the polls, which predict that Podemos is taking them over to become the second power in the future parliament.

The fates of Spain and PSOE will be decided on 26 June. Only two things are certain: a coalition will be formed and PSOE will have to choose their own death. A la griega or a la alemana; being ideologically eaten by Podemos or by their traditional enemies, the PP. As in many other European countries, a question has now arisen in Spain: will the Social-Democrats make a comeback?