by Dick Nichols, in Barcelona • Five months after the December 20 Spanish elections failed to produce a government, the country is again going to the polls in the most polarised election since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the late 1970s.
The December poll saw a surge in support for the radical force Podemos and the various regional coalitions in which it participates. However, the final vote for these new forces—born of the last five years of social and national struggles—still fell short of the score of the social-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), by 20.66 per cent to 22.01 per cent.
At the same time, the total vote to the left of the PSOE—including the United Left (IU), the Basque left-nationalist EH Bildu and the Catalan centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC)—was 27.59 per cent.
Also, the overall left-versus-right balance was 52.4 per cent to 47.6 per cent (53.6 per cent to 46.4 per cent if we exclude the Catalan nationalist right, which would support the formation of a left government in Spain if guaranteed a Scottish-style referendum for Catalonia).
With this result it was arithmetically possible to form a left government of PSOE, Podemos and IU, provided they received a minimum of support from Basque and Catalan nationalist forces.
But that was never going to happen: the leadership of the Spanish-centralist PSOE is as hostile to participating in a left government it doesn’t control as it is to acknowledging the right of self-determination of the nations that coexist in the Spanish state.
After December 20, the PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez instead chose to negotiate a proposal for a “government of change” with the neoliberal party Citizens. Its right-wing vision for Spain is as a “normal” European power purged of corruption, labour market “rigidities” and independence-seeking nationalities.
In response, Podemos, its allies and IU voted down the formation of a PSOE-Citizens administration—and were rewarded with virulent PSOE abuse for being “accomplices” of the ruling People’s Party (PP). For its part, the PP, still the largest force with 28.72 per cent after December 20, was never going to support a minority PSOE-Citizens administration that removed its hands from the levers of power.
New elections then became inevitable, and by early May Spain seemed set for a repeat of December 20. However, the refusal of the PSOE to negotiate in good faith with Podemos and IU focussed the attention of these parties on their core challenge—that of overtaking the PSOE and confronting it with the choice of taking part in a left government or becoming irrelevant.
Negotiations between the Podemos and IU leaderships then led to the proposal for a joint list in all those regions where the two parties had run separately in December. Their proposed ticket, called United We Can, was endorsed by 98 per cent of Podemos members and 84.5 per cent of IU members.
The United We Can platform (“Changing Spain: 50 Steps for Governing Together”) outlines a practical program of measures addressing the key problems of Spanish society. Its immediate economic focus is boosted public expenditure focused on energy sustainability, job creation and poverty reduction, to be funded through a war on tax evasion and by reducing the European Union’s deficit reduction targets for Spain.
Social reform measures include an end to evictions, guaranteed access to water and electricity and increased funding for education and health. Democratic reforms cover a referendum for Catalonia, a citizen debate on constitutional reform (which would confront issues like the monarchy and NATO membership), and a one-vote-one-value electoral system.
The platform includes comprehensive proposals on ecological issues (in part reflecting the participation in the alliance of the green party Equo), and international proposals including a European debt conference, recognition of Palestine, self-determination for the Western Sahara and international aid at 0.7 per cent of GDP.
The formation of United We Can has produced deep concern in the Spanish establishment. The average of opinion polls taken from its formation up until May 23 has the new coalition and its related alliances in second place at 24.1 per cent, as against the PSOE’s 20.8 per cent. In terms of seats, United We Can and the PSOE are neck-and-neck (due to Spain’s rigged system of unequal electorates).
This situation holds before the election campaigning in which Podemos excels has begun: in the December election, Podemos lifted its support from 15 per cent to 20 per cent in last two weeks before polling day. The key variable will be participation: the more people can be inspired to vote, the greater the support for the left.
As a result, while the PP, PSOE and Citizens are each struggling to defend and extend their share of the vote, that fight is now constrained by the goal of stopping United We Can—guaranteeing a slanderous, red-baiting election campaign. For starters, the connections, real and imagined, of Podemos leaders with Venezuela’s Bolivarian government are once again being scoured by squads of “investigative journalists” from the mainstream media.
On May 24, Citizens’ leader Albert Rivera began his Spanish election campaign in the Venezuelan capital Caracas as guest of the anti-Bolivarian majority in the country’s national assembly! This majority also invited Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias to appear before the assembly and explain his links with Bolivarianism.
On May 22, PP leader Pablo Casado denounced Podemos’ “Caracas project, of empty shelves, of chemists where 200 people wait to buy aspirin, of communications media closed down, of business people with their businesses expropriated, of citizens with their second home expropriated.”
He added that the “useful vote” on June 26 could only be for the PP so as to avoid Podemos “beating the PSOE and the PSOE having to support him [Iglesias] as prime minister, as it has done in the councils where they govern together, like Madrid and Barcelona.”
Not to be outdone, Sánchez said on May 24 that the radical formation had to explain the financing of an associated foundation that had supposedly received Venezuelan funding. He also required Iglesias to explain why he had called Basque left-nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi a “political prisoner”.
Sánchez had previously rejected a Podemos offer to run a PSOE-IU-Podemos joint ticket for the Senate as a way of breaking the PP’s absolute majority in Spain’s upper house.
The rise of United We Can has forced the three pro-establishment parties into an anti-left sacred alliance. However, the risk they run is that United We Can’s able leaders, Iglesias and IU’s Alberto Garzón, will be able to expose the underlying motivation of their fear campaign—to frustrate any change that would make Spain’s economic elites pay for improving the lives of the millions afflicted by the economic crisis.
If United We Can’s campaign succeeds against this aggression (and its activists mobilise as needed) the PSOE will have to choose—grand coalition with the PP (and eventual political oblivion) or left government on terms set by United We Can.
• Dick Nichols is the European correspondent of Australia’s Green Left Weekly and of Links—International Journal of Socialist Renewal. There is a more detailed version of this article on the Links website here