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Issue #1719      February 17, 2016

Left government possible in Spain

After weeks of political wrangling in Spain, inconclusive parliamentary elections saw no party win a majority, an arrangement among the spectrum of left-wing parties to install a social democratic-led government now appears possible.

On December 20 last year, voters went to the polls to elect the lower house of the Cortes, or Spanish parliament. With no single party capturing enough seats to rule on its own, the outcome has been a nightmare for anyone trying to put together a coherent majority government.

One after another, the major party leaders have come calling on the head of state, King Felipe VI, to discuss the formation of a new government. So far, none of them have met with much success.

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose right-wing People’s Party (PP) has governed since 2011, told the King that he would be unable to form a new government. His party lost more than 50 seats this time, only managing to secure 123 spots in the 350-seat Cortes. He has not found other parties who are willing to prop up his government and reach the 176-seat majority needed.

A “Portuguese solution”

But last week, it appeared a deal might be possible that would put in power a new government headed by the Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista de los Obreros de España, or PSOE) and supported by the left-wing PODEMOS Party, the Spanish Communist Party, and other allies.

This possible fix is being called a “Portuguese solution”. Parliamentary elections held in Spain’s western neighbour on October 4 produced a similar outcome of no single party winning a majority. There, a government was put in place headed by the Socialist Party’s António Acosta and supported by the Portuguese Communists, Greens, and the “Left Bloc”.

These leftist groups did not ask for cabinet positions, so it was not a formal “coalition government,” but rather an accord between the signing parties. Because their priority was to get rid of the previous right-wing government and its reactionary policies, the leftist parties agreed to have their parliamentarians vote with a Socialist Party government in order to keep it in power.

In Spain, somewhat equivalent political parties exist. The PSOE, which won 90 seats, resembles the Portuguese Socialist Party. PODEMOS, with 69 seats, has a program similar to the Portuguese Left Bloc. And the United Left, which is centred on the Spanish Communist Party and won two seats, resembles a similar alliance that the Portuguese Communist Party built with the Greens.

But the Spanish situation is complicated by the existence of political parties which advocate the independence of Catalonia in the Northeast and the Basque country in the Northwest. These parties also divide along a left-right axis. In Catalonia, the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalan Republican Left), which holds nine seats in the Cortes, is on the left, while the Democracy and Freedom Party, which has another eight seats, is on the right.

In the Basque country, the left Euzkadi Herria Bildu (Basque Country Unite) has two seats, while the right-wing Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea (Basque Nationalist Party) holds six seats.

A further complicating factor is the existence of a conservative protest party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), which strongly opposes the programs of the Catalan “separatist” parties especially, and has a brand-new presence of 40 seats.

Can a government of the left be formed either by cobbling together a coalition which reaches the magic number of 176 parliamentary seats or on the Portuguese plan of installing an all-PSOE government which the left agrees, on certain conditions, to allow to govern?

A possible deal

The prospect of a Socialist government supported by the leftist parties led to an uproar within some sectors of Spain’s oldest social democratic party. The loudest protests are coming from the faction of former Prime Minister Felipe González, who headed the Spanish government from 1977 to 1982 and again from 1996 to 1997.

González is considered to be well to the right within the ideologically heterogeneous PSOE. Since leaving power, he has spoken out forcefully against the socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba, allying himself with shady right-wing forces in Latin American politics in the process.

In Portugal, Acosta was ultimately able to overcome resistance from the right within his own Socialist Party and assemble a government with Communist, Green, and Left Bloc support.

If the Spanish parties do manage to imitate the Portuguese example, their accomplishment could have broader importance for the whole of Europe, as it would open the door to new advances for the left and the working class.

People’s World

Next article – Strong unions in every workplace

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