Deutsche Welle: Spaniards are fed up with political deadlock

This article was originally published in Deutsche Welle.

After seven months of negotiations to form a new government, Spain is likely to head to the polls for the third time in under a year. People are growing more and more indifferent. Santiago Saez reports from Madrid.


Spaniards of all walks of life agree, for once, on a political matter. “It’s shameful,” said Jose Luis Gomez, who is retired. “It’s a huge problem,” said cultural events coordinator Marina Avila. “It’s really bad news,” said bank employee Alberto Valentin.

The latest polls indicate that, if fresh elections were held, abstention would rise 10 points from July, reaching a record-breaking 40 percent.

“People are tired and indifference is growing,” said Fermin Bouza, an expert on public opinion and voting behavior with the Complutense University of Madrid.

“It’s not so much that people want a government, but that they want any government,” he added. According to him, no party stands to gain much from going to the polls again. “I’m not expecting big changes, except maybe some minor transfer of votes on the left-wing parties,” he told DW.

Unlikely deals

After securing a promise from the smaller rival party, centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens) to abstain in any parliamentary confidence vote to allow acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) to form a government, Rajoy still needs to convince the Socialists to drop their opposition.

However, Pedro Sanchez, leader of Spain’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), has already made clear that his party’s executive board has decided otherwise. He added Rajoy should concentrate on negotiating with the political right, referring to Basque and Catalan conservative nationalists, PNV and PDC.

Spain's King Felipe VI (L) greets acting Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy (photo: EPA/Angel Diaz / POOL) Spain’s King Felipe VI (left) tasked Rajoy with forming a government – but he’s lacking support

Grudges with the Catalans over the pro-independence movement and upcoming regional elections in the Basque Country make such a deal unlikely.

According to Bouza, those parties are “very unlikely to get anywhere near Mariano Rajoy.”

“Such an approach would be extremely unpopular in their heartlands, there is no gain for them,” he added.

‘All politicians are to blame’

Madrid’s main business hub, the Paseo de la Castellana, is a traditionally conservative area. The large avenue is flanked by the headquarters of the country’s largest companies. It’s quiet here on the road that’s usually crowded with cars and businesspeople. The cafe terraces are closed or empty. The holiday season has started and Madrid’s streets are deserted.

Barbara Garcia works here as a waitress. She’s quick to point out she’s not from the area. “Politically, I don’t think like most people around here,” she said with a smirk. Garcia says she would prefer a left-wing coalition rather than a Rajoy-led government, but she doesn’t cut the progressives any slack either.

Empty cafes in Madrid (photo: DW/S. Saez) Most people have left Madrid over the summer months – the city is virtually empty

“All of them, right and left, they are just thinking about themselves and not about the citizens,” she said. “I’m ashamed. Folks in Europe must be laughing at us.”

Jose Luis Gomez supports the conservatives. He’s retired and lives only a few hundred meters from the Santiago Bernabeu stadium where he walks his dog. “This is shameful, and all politicians are to blame,” he told DW.

Gomez thinks the PP should be allowed to govern – but without Rajoy. “The key is in PSOE’s hand, but Rajoy should have left a long time ago. He doesn’t know how to negotiate,” he said.

Costly elections

One of the Spanish taxpayers’ main concerns is the cost of a new round of elections. Spain spent over 130 million euros ($145 million) of public money in each of the two elections. Citizens are wary of having to foot such a bill for the third time in a year.

“It’s absurd. We are cutting down on public services and spending huge amounts on useless political campaigns that will take us back to square one anyway,” said Marina Avila, a cultural events coordinator.

The Paseo de la Castellana area is usually bustling with people (photo: DW/S. Saez) Many people are fed up with politics – and holding yet another election is going to be expensive

Direct costs are not the only thing people here worry about. Alberto Valentin, who works for a large bank, is concerned that international investors will be put off by the political instability in the country. “Such a situation creates a lot of economic uncertainty, and, for the sake of the Spanish people’s well-being, they should reach an agreement.”

In political limbo

Meanwhile, the temporary government stays in place, albeit with seriously limited capabilities. According to the Spanish constitution, Rajoy’s cabinet can’t pass the national budget for 2017, submit new law proposals or call new elections.

In case the parties cannot agree to form a government, the king would dissolve the parliament two months after the candidate running for prime minister failed in a confidence vote.The elections then take place some 50 days after the parliament has been dissolved.

However, Rajoy, who was appointed candidate by the King, hasn’t said whether he will face a vote if he doesn’t have enough support. The constitution doesn’t establish a deadline, and neither Rajoy nor the monarch can dissolve the parliament without the confidence vote, so the situation could technically go on indefinitely.



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