How Can Spain Break Its Electoral Gridlock?
Spain heads to the polls again on June 26 in an election that is widely expected to result in another hung Cortés - Spain's parliament - just as it did in December of last year. The problem is that Spain's electoral system may again give parties reason to play profiling games to prepare for new elections, rather than forming a coalition government. Which parties will dare to take responsibility after June 26?
With the possible exception of the socialists of the PSOE and the centrist Ciudadanos, most parties never lost sight of the possibility of new general elections after those of Dec. 20. One of the winners of the 2015 elections, the left-wing newcomers of Podemos, seemed to vacillate for months, never really committing to join a government with the PSOE.
It was as if every time the PSOE offered up a compromise Podemos couldn't refuse, its leader Pablo Iglesias, or someone else high up the Podemos hierarchy, found a new argument to back away.
Meanwhile, sitting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Populár - which lost the 2015 elections but remained the biggest party in the Cortés, holding a firm majority in the Senate - cunningly played the role of Mister Responsibility. Rajoy at every turn harangued Pedro Sanchez of the rival PSOE about joining a grand coalition, knowing full well that the socialists would never accept, as it would mean political suicide. The PP and the PSOE have been implacable archrivals ever since democracy was re-established in 1978.
At the end of February, the socialists cut a deal with Ciudadanos, a new political party of reformist centrists and like Podemos also a winner of the elections. But while Podemos had at first signalled an interest in supporting a PSOE-Ciudadanos government, and maybe even joining one, it backed out almost immediately after the PSOE and Ciudadanos announced their cooperation.
Meanwhile, the center-right Partido Populár welcomed the PSOE-Cuidadanos agreement. Ciudadanos has been viewed as a rival to the PP, with both parties vying for parts of the same voter bloc. There's no doubt that some cheering erupted in PP headquarters when Ciudadanos tied the knot with the socialists, potentially pushing away disgusted right-wing voters.
This is probably the reason Ciudadanos sought to distance itself from the PSOE, downplaying the deal. One Cuidadanos official declared it "dead and forgotten".
Cut a deal before the elections, not after
And so the posturing and profiling in preparation of new elections went on and on. Attitudes are expected to toughen in the weeks ahead as the campaign heats up. Although King Felipe called on the parties to not recriminate during the election campaign, the PSOE and Ciudadanos can be sure that the PP and Podemos will beat them around the head with their old compromise agreements.
So far, the only party that seems to be benefiting from the infighting among the other parties is Rajoy's PP. Despite being harassed by corruption scandals, the PP is slowly recovering in most polls, while the PSOE and Ciudadanos are shedding votes. Still, PP's slow revival is expected to not be enough by clinch a majority in Congress. Rajoy's party is expected to retain its current majority in the Senate though, making any changes to the Constitution sought by the reformist Ciudadanos impossible.
So the question remains which parties will dare to get their hands dirty after June 26. The Spanish Constitution prescribes new elections two months after the first investiture vote. Spain is not used to coalition governments; perhaps it would be a better idea if some parties would agree on a coalition agreements before June 26, as is common in Denmark.
This way, voters know what they can expect and parties would be hard-pressed to sabotage the negotiation process for another go at the polls.