The Day in Spain #23



No surprises: Mariano Rajoy fails to be elected at the first round of the confidence vote

The incumbent PM has been defeated today at the first round of the confidence vote. As it was expected, the conservative leader didn’t convince PSOE‘s 85 MPs to support him, and failed to obtain the 176 favourable votes he needed. The Parliament has been summoned at 19h CET on Friday 2 September for a second round vote.


Why have the parties voted for or against Mariano Rajoy’s second term?

PP (137 MPs – Voted YES): Mariano Rajoy’s party.

PSOE (85 MPs) – Voted NO: The pivotal player, as it’s the most likely to eventually change its vote, and the only one that could eventually lead an alternative government. The reasons of the socialists opposition are varied and complex, and party unity is questioned.

First, it must be understood that PSOE and PP are traditional adversaries. The two parties have been the only groups to hold government since 1982. PSOE represents traditional social-democracy. Initially republican and federalist, the party’s positions have drifted towards the centre, accepting the monarchy’s status quo. PSOE represents progressive social policies such as gay marriage and benefits for dependent families. However, the rise of Podemos to PSOE‘s left has highlighted the socialists’ close relations with Big Business. Differentiating themselves from the conservatives is vital to keep the vote of the left and avoid a massive leak towards Pablo Iglesias’ party.

So why would PSOE change its vote?

One answer: To avoid being portrayed as the party responsible for a third round of elections. The deadlock is already very unpopular in Spain, and having the key to that deadlock is a curse, because not using it would put them under the spotlight as the culprit. First of all, such a vote would possibly favour PP, as the conservatives usually benefit from high abstention in Spain. Second, it would give Podemos a second chance to become the first party of the Spanish left (although that doesn’t look likely at the moment. Third, there’s no guarantee at all that voting again would actually solve the gridlock.

But hey! They could try leading a government with the support of Podemos and the nationalists!

Even if Podemos‘ support was enough, that would be a hard pill to swallow for the conservative wing of the party, particularly for Andalusian leader Susana Díaz, who is rumoured to be waiting for the moment to replace Sánchez at the helm of the party. As I have said often before, PSOE have two very different kinds of voters. Urban voters are generally progressive, and consider Podemos a natural ally. Although they don’t like Iglesias’ often arrogant forms, and are more moderate in economic and foreign policy, they share a very wide political base with the anti-austerity camp. These similarities have given fruits such as the control of Madrid’s and Valencia’s city halls (which had been in PP‘s hands for decades), among others. PSOE governs regions such as Castilla-La Mancha, Valencia and Aragón with Podemos‘ support.

However, PSOE‘s rural base is typically conservative. This base has acquired even more importance after lots of traditional socialist urban voters have been seduced by Podemos and its regional allies. PSOE conservative voters are concentrated in the southern half of the country (Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha). These are historically depressed areas, which identify with left-wing options but are less concerned about progressive laws. They come from anti-francoist traditions, but are often religious, pro-monarchy and more concerned about advantageous labour policies than progressive social and cultural progression. Conservative socialists are often opposed to Podemos, which is considered a demagogic party which would bring turmoil to the economic landscape, endanger the pensions and limit foreign investment.

The most important clash between Podemos and PSOE, however, is the Catalan question. Both parties want to keep Catalonia in Spain, but while Podemos supports the celebration of a referendum in the northeastern region, PSOE is completely against it. Any deviation from a steadfast opposition would produce a leak of conservative voters towards abstention or right-wing options.

The Catalan question is at the centre of the debate, anyway, because PSOE wouldn’t have enough with Podemos‘ support. They would need to bring in at least one of the Catalan nationalist parties (PDC or ERC). That has one prize and only one: allowing a binding referendum on independence.

I see… what about getting the support of Podemos and Ciudadanos? They would be enough!

Podemos and Ciudadanos are mutually exclusive, as we could see last April, when Sanchez and Rivera (Ciudadanos‘ leader) reached a government deal, but Podemos opposed it. Ciudadanos is a right wing, neoliberal party, and its main target is to keep anyone like Podemos away from Moncloa (admitted by Ciudadanos‘ leader in Madrid Begoña Villacís).

Podemos-En Comú Podem-Compromís-En Marea-Unidad Popular (71 MPs – Voted NO): Podemos is the natural adversary of PP. The anti-austerity group was born specifically to oppose Rajoy’s cutbacks. Initially, Iglesias’ group was more combative and included PSOE in the “caste” category, which they used to describe the old parties that allegedly use their positions to maintain the status quo and take advantage of revolving doors.

Podemos uses a strategy of “confluences”, which takes advantage of Spain’s multinational nature. It’s based in concurring as a single ballot in Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia with local parties, using Podemos media brand and electoral powerhouse. These instruments also make it more difficult for their opponents to use the past of many of the party’s leaders, who supported Hugo Chávez and other Latin American left wing leaders, against them.

The regional parties have their own voice and are fiercely opposed to PP in their heartlands, so it would be unthinkable that they supported the conservatives, particularly as allies Ciudadanos are strongly centralist.

Ciudadanos (32 MPs – Voted YES): Ciudadanos pro-business focus was quite in line with Rajoy from the beginning, and it would have been thought that the party led by Albert Rivera is PP‘s natural ally. They are slightly more progressive in social terms and their voters are more urban and educated than the conservatives’. The main obstacle was, allegedly, the fact that PP‘s leaders and the party itself is involved in several high profile corruption cases. Last week, the two parties reached an agreement for C’s 32 MPs support to Rajoy’s re-election.

Ciudadanos is also a strictly centralist party. It’s against any regional power, particularly in Catalonia, where they are the main opposition party and flagbearers of the anti-independence movement.

ERC (9 MPs – Voted NO): ERC would never vote for Rajoy. It’s a Catalan pro-independence, left wing party. ERC supports the break up with Spain, friendly or otherwise. Support to the centralist combo PPCiudadanos would be unnatural and would obliterate the party.

PDC (8 MPs – Voted NO): Formerly known as Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), this is the leading party in Catalonia. It’s a typical pro-European neoliberal party. It wasn’t traditionally pro-independence, and actually supported PP‘s Aznar government from 1996 to 2000. However, the party made a bid for more self-government and a better financial deal for Catalonia in 2013, which was rebuffed by the People’s Party.

After that, CDC broke up its decades-long marriage with Unió and became pro-independence. There’s a rabid feud between PDC and PP and, although they share many economic ideas, it would be extremely unpopular for their voters in Catalonia to support Rajoy.

In addition to all that, the Catalan PM, Carles Puigdemont, is facing a confidence vote next 28 September. Puigdemont depends on anti-austerity group CUP to win the vote, and that would never happen if PDC didn’t strongly oppose Rajoy.

PNV (5 MPs – Voted NO): PNV‘s MPs wouldn’t have been enough for Rajoy, who needed six extra yes votes, but still it wouldn’t be unthinkable for the Basque conservative nationalists to support Rajoy. Same as with PDC, they share many pro-business and deregulation policy preferences with PP.

However, that would be extremely unpopular in the Basque Country, where regional elections will be held on 25 September. In the northern region, PP is considered unionist and in favour of reducing Basque self-government. The alliance with Ciudadanos makes this even more difficult.

However, once the regional elections are over, it wouldn’t be off the table that they changed their vote to an abstention. Unlikely, yes. Off the table, no.

EH Bildu (2 MPs – Voted NO): If it would be unthinkable that Podemos and ERC supported PP, the anti-austerity, pro-independence Basque party would be even more difficult. PP and EH Bildu occupy the two most separated places in the political spectrum in terms of economy, social and territorial policies.

Coalición Canaria (1 MP – Voted YES): Coalición Canaria has traditionally supported PP in exchange for favourable policies for the Canary Islands.



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