Spain wrapped up a dizzying week on Friday as Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for snap elections on 28 April.
It will be the third time Spaniards go to the ballot box in four years. But this time the impact of the trial of Catalan pro-independence leaders and the irruption of far-right party Vox preludes further cracks in the badly needed political stability of the country.
Over the past years, Spain has been shaken by major political and economic earthquakes. The end of ETA, the ‘indignados’ movement, the international bailout, a large list of corruption cases, the Catalan crisis and the first successful no-confidence vote were only a few examples of an eventful decade.
But this week the country had an overdose. Right-wing parties embraced far-right Vox in an anti-government demonstration on Sunday, whitewashing a party known by its anti-migrant, misogynistic rhetoric.
The trial of the Catalan separatist process started at the Supreme Court. Sanchez failed to pass the budget, mostly because Catalan pro-independence parties did not support him again, as the government rejected any discussion of an independence referendum.
“Call me classic, but without budgets, one cannot govern,” Sánchez told reporters on Friday.
The only question mark was the date of the elections in an already supercharged political season. Spain is already scheduled to hold local, regional and European elections on 26 May.
While the idea of a ‘superSunday’ was an option, Socialists regional leaders lobbied their supremo for an earlier date, as they were afraid of paying the consequences of Sánchez’s appeasement approach with Catalan separatists.
Rightly, Sázchez brought the Catalan issue back to the political arena, compared with the judiciary fight the previous government orchestrated to contain the crisis. But for many, including in his own party, he went too far when he offered a mediator between Madrid and Barcelona.
But right-wing parties went further in their criticism. Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado accused him of “high treason” for holding talks, as compared the Catalan pro-independence movement with terrorist group ETA.
ETA victims called on Casado to stop “trivialising” the issue as the two things were not comparable. Furthermore, Consuelo Ordóñez, the sister of a PP councillor killed by ETA, reminded Casado that all governments have sat down to negotiate with ETA, including Casado’s mentor José Maria Aznar.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal even said that an “illegitimate and treacherous government” had been defeated.
Casado sees Abascal as an ally to build a bloc after the elections, together with centre-right Ciudadanos. But some in Ciudadanos don’t feel comfortable with that picture, even if its Macronianesque leader Albert Ribera already went on stage with Casado and Abascal last Sunday.
Against this turbulent background, Sánchez made his campaign curtain-raiser on Friday, by highlighting the (limited) results of his eight-month minority government, primarily an increase of the minimum wage and a controversial pay rise for pensioners.
Even if Sánchez wins the elections, as polls predict, different scenarios forecast that it would not be easy for him, or any other party, to form a majority in the Parliament, as it already happened in the first half of 2016, when new elections were called.
If it took five months for Germany and four months for Sweden to form a government, how long could it take Spanish parties in this heated environment?
This is not positive news either for the fourth largest euro economy or for the EU, when the European economy is slowing down.
Only common sense can avoid a scenario where the shortest government in the history of Spain is followed by the longest period of instability. But that seems a long shot today.
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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Samuel Stolton]