If Spain’s PSOE “socialist” party is to be remembered for any one single thing, perhaps that will be weak leadership.
While he was president, Zapatero could have done so much for Spain, had he only stood up to the PSOE barons and reorganised his party and its agenda. When it really mattered and Spain needed a leader that said “no” to Spanish, French and German banks, he panicked and announced austerity measures instead. This was not the behaviour of a real socialist, so left-wing voters realised the awful truth: Their own party had sold them out a long time ago. The left was now in disarray with no party to vote for, and it was because of this vacuum that Podemos was eventually born. Meanwhile, the PP (always “thick as thieves”) delivered a crushing defeat at the general election in 2011.
In the final year before the next general election of 2015, Podemos grew at meteoric speed, so more than five million people voted for it and its nationalist allies, making it party number three in Spain. The winning party was the PP, but it was a hollow victory because it could not form a government. Parliament was potentially hung, but there were some options. The PSOE and Podemos could have formed a coalition, thus ejecting Mariano Rajoy and his Partido Popular from power. PP support had fallen due to corruption scandals, its failure to fix the Spanish economy, rising unemployment and draconian expenditure cuts.
But Sanchez wasted his opportunity. Like Zapatero he had not sufficiently secured his position within this party, so he was now too busy looking over his shoulder to consider a collaboration with Podemos. Incredibly, Sanchez tried to form a government coalition with ultra-right-wing Ciudadanos. Naturally, Podemos blocked this in a parliamentary vote. Throughout this episode Pablo Iglesias of Podemos calmly and humbly pleaded with Sanchez (over and over again) to form a left-wing coalition, but was ignored. When no government could be formed with any party or parties (and a new general election was required) Sanchez tried to pin the blame on Podemos.
Then in 2016 a second election was called, and the new result weakened both the PSOE and Podemos so much that there was a more severely hung parliament than the previous time. Sanchez started facing leadership contests and finally agreed to let Rajoy slide back in rather than risk a new election in which Podemos might attract yet more PSOE voters and the PSOE would blame Sanchez. Sanchez tried to justify letting Rajoy stay in power by saying (with a sick-looking smile) that it was for the good of Spain to have a solution now.
But since when are “socialists” morally obliged to support right-wing parties return to power? He had already called Rajoy an indecent person to his face during a live debate. Where was the moral code in betraying his voters and not opposing Rajoy’s return to power?
Sanchez’ hypocrisy is all too transparent: He didn’t oppose Rajoy’s return because he knew that later he could call for a vote of no confidence over PP corruption charges, and get into power himself without even needing a parliamentary vote.
Sounds like a neat trick, but Spain paid very dearly for it.
Catalonia’s government wouldn’t have called its fateful independence referendum if Rajoy had gone sooner. The damage done to Catalonia and Spain through the referendum conflict is terrible. Rajoy provoked the referendum, then sent in thousands of Spanish police to beat-up the voters. Indeed, what a nice smoke screen; something to buy time for a president who is drowning in legal worries and in parliament! Supposedly, 1000 peaceful voters were treated in hospital, and business is crippled in Catalonia after many companies fled to other parts of Spain.
It must be said that Podemos acted stupidly in forming too many coalitions with regional nationalists, which gave it a lot of bad publicity, and gave Sanchez his excuse not to collaborate with Podemos. Podemos has paid a hard price, since it has just missed out on any real power sharing.
Maybe Spain can begin to heal itself. But so much needs to be done and Sanchez is a weak man.
Perhaps he will listen to Podemos a bit now, but he is still very busy looking over his shoulder. He should feel uncomfortable because he has just started a job he does not deserve.
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This post was written by Mike Summers