Spain is closer to a Portuguese government scenario. It is now entirely possible that a leftist coalition between the second Socialists (PSOE) and the further-left third party PODEMOS will form a government. Like in Portugal, this means the incumbent and first center-right (PP) party, which theoretically won, will be sidelined and will not participate in the formation of a government. That is on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the picture was quite different. Since the legislative elections of December 20th, 2015 Spain is negotiating a government. The political system remains bipolar. But, for the first time since 1978, there are now four parties dominating the political landscape. The next government in Spain will be a new kind of government. But, what kind of government it will be remains an open question. In fact, the answer is different every day.
On January 20th, one month following the inconclusive legislative elections, the Spanish parliament convened to elect a House Speaker. The Socialists (PSOE) won that battle. The Popular Party strategically abstained, without fielding a candidate, and Ciudadanos and PSOE supported the Socialist candidate in what everyone hope could be the prelude to a deal for the formation of a government. Pablo Iglesias called the indirect deal between PSOE-PP-Ciudadanos “shameful,” El Pais reports.
But, Podemos remains in the game for the formation of a leftist alliance, to include the liberal Ciudadanos. The magic number to form a national government is securing the support of 176 deputies in a 350 seat parliament. PP came first with 123; their natural allies – the liberal and pro-business Ciudadanos – came fourth with merely 40 seats.
There were two obstacles in making the sum of the second, third, and fourth parties. Both problems relate to Podemos.
Podemos, like Syriza in Greece, is not a party but a platform of parties. To complicate things further Podemos is strong in the Basque Country, the Barcelona metropolitan area (Catalonia), Valencia-Baleares, Asturias, and Galicia. All these are regions have a strong national and ethno-cultural identity and three local branches – Valencia, Galicia and Catalonia – were demanding a distinct voice in parliament. The bonus of distinct parliamentary representation was more subsidies and more representation in parliamentary house committees. However, the notion of Podemos becoming the sum of its parts did not bid well with any other party.
To make a deal, Podemos managed to integrate its “constituent members” into a single parliamentary group, with the exception of Valencian member – Compromís – that elected four MPs. Now Podemos has 65 rather than 69 representatives. This in turn allows Podemos to negotiate its integration into an alliance with PSOE – holding 90 seats – under the premiership of Pedro Sánchez. Or so Sánchez demands, because Podemos are not willing to take this for granted.
The last obstacle to forming a left-left government is Catalonia. Podemos demands a binding “in-or-out” referendum for Catalonia, modelled after Scotland’s 2014 experience. And that is a position the party cannot afford to back down from. Under the banner of a demand for a referendum, Ada Colau, an anti-eviction activist, won the Council of Madrid in May. She would leave the party in a split of a second if anyone thought of backing down. Moreover, the Catalan “associate partner” of Podemos – En Comú Podem – controls 12 MPs. PSOE want Podemos to drop this demand.
Between Catalonia and the premiership, a deal may just be looming.