In December 2015 the Spanish people went to the polls and the results were…inconclusive. The largest party was Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Popular Party however they were 53 seats short of forming a majority government. All of the other parties refused to enable the PP to continue ruling as a senior member of a coalition, which would mean that the most likely outcome would be that Pedro Sánchez, the leader of centre-left PSOE, would be the next PM. Unfortunately for Sánchez the only route to do this would be to form a coalition with the centre-right Ciudadanos Party as well as the left-wing populists of Podemos. Spoiler alert, not much has happened.
There is an important element of realpolitik involved in this current situation as there are many factors at play in the domestic political scene in Spain. PSOE are the main electoral rival of the People’s Party and have been since Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s. Because of this political reality the concept of a German-style grand coalition is completely off the table; it’s also worth pointing out that one of the key features of the campaign was that Sánchez had repeatedly said that Rajoy should no longer be PM but a PSOE-PP coalition would keep Rajoy in the top job.
With the prospect of a grand coalition off the table Sánchez decided to try to get a deal with the centre-right Ciudadanos Party, who are more economically conservative but socially liberal. The combination of these two parties would only provide this prospective coalition with 130 seats, 47 short of a majority. The prospective government must be agreed to by the Spanish Parliament however this is problematic. The PP want to remain in power and don’t want to vote in favour of a government that would put their electoral rivals into power.
Similarly Podemos don’t want to support PSOE because they see it as an attempt to maintain the neo-liberal orthodoxy of the Popular Party and this would be terrible for the Spanish people. Irrespective of how the other 29 Deputies decided to vote, Podemos and the PP have the votes between them to block the deal. On Wednesday 2nd March the vote took place and the PSOE-Ciudadanos coalition proposal was rejected.
The only way in which a coalition government could be formed would be through a three-way deal between PSOE, Podemos, and Ciudadanos, however this will not happen. There is not a political tent big enough to have fiscal conservatives and radical leftists on the other. However, as I alluded to earlier, forming a coalition may not be in the interest of these new political parties. Podemos won 69 seats at the election which was remarkable considering that it was founded in January 2014. The Ciudadanos was formed much earlier, in 2005, however their growth in popularity, and that of Podemos, is illustrative of a wider rejection of establishment politics in Spain.
This is not mindless speculation or wishful thinking on my part. At the December 2015 election Mariano Rajoy’s government was seen as unpopular, but its poll numbers were holding steady. The years of grinding austerity measures that the people of Spain had endured made people resent the Popular Party. PSOE’s response was seen as not enough to deal with the concerns of thee people and therefore non-establishment parties became more popular. This was shown by the specifics of the results where the PP lost 64 seats but PSOE also lost 20. If anger was only directed at the PP, PSOE would have picked up seats.
The political paralysis does not favour PSOE or the PP as the trend was that anti-establishment parties were riding a wave of frustration that has not subsided. If there is another election I would be highly surprised if Podemos and Ciudadanos are not returned to Madrid with more Deputies. PSOE lack energy that Podemos have and a more socially liberal party to rival the PP will mean that younger voters that would have supported Rajoy’s party would flock to Ciudadanos. Spain is having some electoral problems but because Podemos have the balance of power, we will probably have another election in June. Sí se puede.