Categories Opinion

Spanish liberals have everything to play for

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The morning after the night before and those of us who follow Spanish politics are suffering from a sore head. The electorate gave no clear direction when the votes were counted last night, with the previous governing party winning first place, but with far fewer seats and votes and no viable combination of parties able to group together to form a stable government.

Those of us who a few days ago had dreamed that Spain’s new centrist party, Ciudadanos, were about to break the mold and become, if not a governing party, at least the kingmakers, can forgiven for being disappointed with the result. But put into perspective, a party that four years ago did not exist on a national level, with no infrastructure and a single issue policy platform, has burst onto the scene with 40 deputies in Congress, gaining 14 per cent of the vote.

There will now follow weeks of horse trading to try to build a government out of such a fractured parliament. Rajoy, as ever a poor imitation of Angela Merkel, last night seemed to open the door to a grand coalition with the Socialists, with his call for a stable government with a majority. A pact between the two largest parties is the only combination that could provide a majority government without an unwieldy coalition of small parties. But such a coalition would surely undermine the raison d’etre of the Socialist Party as an anti-Conservative force.

The Socialists and the hard-left Podemos may try to govern, but an agreement will not be easy to achieve and would govern without a majority in Congress. Ciudadanos will almost certainly not now play a role in any government as a pact with Podemos is unthinkable and they have consistently said they will not deal with the two old parties unless fundamental reforms can be delivered to the constitution and against corruption. Besides which, C’s do not have the seats to provide any partner with a majority.

All parties must now be looking at further elections in a few months to try to break the stalemate in Congress. New elections would be chance for Ciudadanos to build on their progress of 20 December.

The temptation in the party might be for a rightward shift to try to appeal to those voters who a few weeks ago told the opinion polls they were voting C’s, only to return to the PP. We can expect some in the party to talk openly about strategies to ensure the party becomes a conservative coalition partner to keep Podemos out of power. The party’s leader, Albert Rivera, must resist these calls and continue the policy of equidistance between the PP and Socialists.

My sense is that C’s didn’t achieve a higher vote share because they are paradoxically seen by many as an establishment party in a country crying out for change. Albert Rivera signalled last night that his priorities would be to try to reach a consensus with other parties to achieve electoral reform and improvements to the education system. This must be the right strategy, to focus on achievable, concrete steps that can achieve lasting reforms.

Looming over everything is Catalonia. The region also still has no government after the elections of September gave no grouping a majority. If current premier, Artur Mas, cannot be sworn in by January then new elections will be called there too. C’s are currently second place in Catalonia, but saw their position fall back in the general election, with Podemos winning in the region. If new elections are called then C’s may once again become a magnet for anti-nationalist voters.

It’s tempting to be seduced by the idea of Big Bang politics, where the old order is swept away on a tide of hope, New Labour 1997 style. In truth political change is rarely like that. The Spanish Congress now has 40 liberal voices when previously it had precious few. The old duopoly is proving resistant to change, but change is inevitable and C’s will be at the forefront of bringing that about. Congratulations to Albert Rivera and C’s for entering Congress for the first time. We’re all looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Author: Martin Petts

Martin is the founder of Lib Dems in Spain and lives in Barcelona. He works as a web developer.

9 thoughts on “Spanish liberals have everything to play for”

  1. I think we should also draw encouragement at the result when you consider that the other ALDE member, UPyD fell back a long way from where they were earlier in the campaign.

  2. The continued uncritical praise for C’s is beginning to get irritating. How, exactly, is refusing to allow Catalans the same right to vote on their future that the Scots enjoyed “liberal”. How, exactly, is agreeing to abstain to allow continued rule by Rajoy and his gang of thieves “liberal”?

    I would agree that SOME of the C’s policies are positive, but, at base, they are a conservative party which supports the sort of austerity policies followed by Osbourne and co. during our ill-fated coalition.

    Again, the dismissal of Podemos as “extremists” is far too simplistic. This is a party that managed to get over 20% of the vote, despite funding their campaign exclusively with small contributions from individuals and with “micro-loans” from supporters. ALL the other parties — including C’s — relied on large contributions from corporations and from large loans from friendly banks. I wonder if the people writing these pro-C’s articles have even READ the Podemos program. There’s certainly no sign of it in their articles — just a trite condemnation of the party (and, thus, of the 1/5th of the Spanish population who voted for them!) as “extreme-left”…

    In fact, Podemos is a very broad coalition of left-of-centre forces including democratic socialists, environmentalists, local anti-corruption activists, and, yes, good, old-fashioned liberals. There’s no doubt that there are also some former members of the IU (Communists) and even a few anarchists. It’s such a broad coalition that, in many ways, attending meetings reminded me a lot of the Young Liberals of the 1970s!

    I really would like to see a little more objectivity in the treatment of Spanish politics here…

    1. Hi Mike
      These are merely opinion pieces (and it’s an opinion I stand by). Feel free to contribute an article if you feel you have something useful to add.
      Thanks for your comment.

    2. There are two smaller Spanish parties which are members of the ALDE group in Brussels. Cuidadanos (citizens) or C’s is one. The other is UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy). Both are in favour of the unity of Spain as a single country, which reflects their history; C’s grew out of the Catalan anti-separatist movement and UPyD grew out of the Basque anti-separatists.
      C’s is a right-leaning centre party, UPyD also centrist but left-leaning and to my mind, more in line with the UK Lib Dem thinking. Unfortunately, although the latter was making progress and has been around now for seven years or so, the non-PSOE left vote was successfully hoovered up by Podemos which moved from a far-left infancy to a new position to the right of PSOE during the run up to the elections, and UPyD was marginalised in the process.That strikes me as unfortunate in the extreme, as I believe they have a much broader and more positive portfolio of policies than Podemos, but such is democracy.

      1. It is also relevant that UpD suffered acrimonious splits in the two years before the election and their leader became more and more intolerant of internal opposition. Hardly a “liberal” attitude?

      2. In what respect do you consider Podemos’ policies “to the right of PSOE”? All the comments about Podemos’ policies seem to be very light indeed on actual FACTS as opposed to unsupported assertions…

        1. Pablo Iglesias, who essentially *is* Podemos was notable in his encounters with Spanish media, particulary from the beginning of December was shifting policy rightwards in order to pick up disaffected voters from both PP and PSOE. With the election now safely behind him and with 69 diputados he categorically refuses to consider any agreement with Rajoy and is moving back towards his earlier position.
          This is my personal evaluation of what I read in various Spanish media. I live in Spain and have sufficient fluency in the language to be able to follow Spanish media.

          1. So, your problem with Podemos is that they have moderated some of their earliest policies and that they refuse to negotiate with Rajoy? And your knowledge of Podemos relies on what you have managed to glean from the notoriously biased Spanish press? Have you read any of the Podemos policy documents? And I STILL don’t understand how you can say that Podemos is to the right of PSOE…

            There was NEVER any chance that Podemos would enter into a deal with Rajoy and the PP. This was crystal clear way before the elections. In any case, PSOE has also ruled out a deal since to enter one would be electoral suicide for them.

            If you live here, especially if you were here a couple of years ago at the height of the Indignados protests, then you must be aware that there is a huge wave of disgust here at the corrupt way in which BOTH the established parties have pillaged the country in the interests of the richest section of society. The level of economic inequality in Spain is the highest in Western Europe by some margin. Unemployment stands at around 22% (50% for young people) and anyone lucky enough to find a job today will have to expect to receive 30% less than they would have done five years ago. Is it, then, really surprising that a party which comes forward with policies aimed at doing something to help the less fortunate 70% got such support?

            I really do urge you to read through the actual policies Podemos proposed rather than relying on the filtering and downright lies of the right wing press…

          2. Do you know, I actually did read in detail the policies of Podemos, UPyD and C’s before concluding that I preferred UPyD. You, in your wisdom have come to a different conclusion. Fine. Discussion now closed from my end.

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