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25/09/2016

Spaniards fear a ‘Groundhog Day’ election

Elections

Spaniards fear a ‘Groundhog Day’ election

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The American comedy Groundhog Day is based on a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again. Spaniards voting on Sunday (26 June) fear a “Groundhog Day” election: a repetition of the previous results, with no clear winner. EurActiv Spain reports.

Spain has been under a caretaker government since the national election of 20 December, in which no party reached the required majority of 176 seats in parliament to form a stable government.

Successive attempts by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (Partido Popular), the Socialist (PSOE) Party leader Pedro Sánchez, and by Alberto Rivera, the leader of the centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens), failed to rally a parliamentary majority, and new elections had to be called for 26 June.

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Spain’s King Felipe yesterday (26 April) said he would not put forward a new candidate to seek the confidence of parliament and become Prime Minister, a move which de facto paves the way for a new general election in June.

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But the development hardly came as a surprise. Already in February, Rajoy predicted Spain would “most likely” have to hold new elections in June, after months of political impasse.

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Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Thursday (18 February) said Spain would “most likely” hold new elections on 26 June after months of political deadlock.

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With fresh polls predicting a panorama very similar to the post-20 December scenario, the key question is whether it be possible to form an alliance and avoid a third election.

This extreme scenario is not to be excluded, even if the four main political leaders pledge to do everything possible to avoid a Groundhog Day-type scenario.

A key four-way debate held on 13 June between Rajoy, Sánchez, Rivera and Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist and anti-austerity Podemos (We Can), had no clear winner, and did not suggest potential coalitions.

Catalonia´s ‘hot potato’

Even a seven-way debate on 20 June between Pablo Casado (PP), Isabel Rodríguez (PSOE), Iñigo Errejón (Podemos), Juan Carlos Girauta (Ciudadanos), Gabriel Rufián (Catalan Republican Left – ERC), Carles Campuzano (Convergència) and Aitor Esteban (Basque Nationalist Party – PNV) did little to clarify the situation.

And as they did in the previous election campaign, Catalan nationalists insisted they will only support a prime minister who respects the Catalans’ right to decide (47.8% of the 7.5 million Catalan citizens, according to a survey by the Centre d´Estudis d’ Opinió of the Catalan government, Generalitat, reject independence).

Catalonia has been one of the main obstacles blocking the formation of a coalition government between the PSOE and Podemos (with the help of other small parties), because of the deep difference between Sánchez and Iglesias on a future referendum to define a new status for the Catalan autonomous region, one of Spain´s richest communities.

PSOE, the PP and Ciudadanos oppose a referendum, calling it “anti-Constitutional”, but internally some politicians in that “constitutional block” are in favour of opening a debate on a possible future reform of the Spanish Constitution (adopted in 1978) to – perhaps – expand competences for the Catalan autonomous region.

The PSOE defends a constitutional reform that would acknowledge Catalonia´s unique status without expressly granting sovereignty, an alternative way out of the current stalled situation.

PSOE a third force?

In a nod to the Socialists and Ciudadanos, Rajoy renewed his call for like-minded parties to work with the PP to defend the country´s unity in the face of a separatist drive in the Catalan region. But the idea of a grand coalition is fading away, as the PSOE clearly opposes it.

Despite a tense and sometimes bitter political campaign, which was expected to define citizen´s preferences, opinion polls indicate Sunday´s elections will be a repetition of December´s. So, again, negotiations, pacts and alliances, would be required.

A survey by Metroscopia published in El Pais last Sunday (19 June) shows the PP will probably win 29% of the vote (28.7% last December), the new coalition Unidos-Podemos (a merger between leftist Izquierda Unida and Podemos) with 26% could be second, the Socialists coming third, with 20.5%, and Ciudadanos fourth with 14.5%. The “sorpasso” or overtaking of the PSOE by Podemos, is a nightmare scenario for Pedro Sánchez.

And like in the previous campaign, corruption cases in all parties, in the PP and the PSOE in particular, were also at the core of the debates, with Sánchez and Rivera fiercely attacking Rajoy because of his alleged links with former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who currently faces money-laundering, tax-evasion and corruption charges.

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Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy may take a pounding from fresh corruption allegations against his centre-right People's Party but the government is strong enough to ride the storm, analysts and sources say.

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Podemos, a ‘Trojan horse’?

The current Spanish political puzzle is particularly complex due to the animosity against Rajoy. Rivera he said on Monday he could accept a coalition with the PP, but on the condition that Rajoy leaves the government. In the last six months, Sánchez rejected even the possibility of  speaking with Rajoy, and since December, he has been constantly repeating that the PSOE will never support a government by the PP or a PP-Ciudadanos-PSOE coalition.

On the other hand, the possibility of a leftist coalition government between the PSOE and Podemos (in the event they reach together a sufficient majority) is considered by Socialist party leaders to be a Trojan horse that could gradually destroy the foundations of the PSOE from inside, as Podemos would occupy the space of the left, both radical and moderate.