Rajoy Could Govern But With Conditions

Yesterday Spaniards voted again six months after the last general elections on proposals which had changed very little; the only relevant novelty was the integration of Izquierda Unida (IU) and Podemos which in the end turned out to be irrelevant. The new/old left has not gained anything obtaining the same number of seats and votes as in December, when IU ran on its own.

The polls warned of two new factors: firstly, that Podemos would overtake the socialists and, secondly, that the left lead by Podemos could govern. Both hypotheses have failed to materialise, the polls have got it wrong and from this second round of elections only one party has emerged in a stronger position: the PP led by Mariano Rajoy. The PP has won four percentage points more than in December (going from nearly 29% to 33%) and 137 seats (+14). This is far off a majority (176), but also from the second strongest party (the socialists with 85 seats).

With these numbers on the table, it will be difficult to block Rajoy again from forming a government. But his problem is that he has to obtain the socialists’ active or passive support. And the socialists’ problem is how to explain that they have no alternative but to support Rajoy and the PP in government.

The socialist strength and its decisive character has little sympathy for its objective weakness, the worst result in its history, with 85 MPs and less than 25% of the vote. This will mean changes, restructuring and, most probably, replacements. The problem is that Susana Diaz as an alternative has lost potential given that the result in Andalucia was insufficient, with the PP winning by two seats. Managing the socialists’ crisis is not simple, even less so with a leader like Pedro Sanchez. The only thing to his credit is that he remained in the job, but his performance was not strong enough to lead his party out of the crisis.

Sanchez could consolidate his position if he manages to impose a reform programme on Rajoy which appears attractive to the Spaniards, but without renouncing his role as head of the opposition; keeping both balls in the air at the same time.

The new parties which promised to finally change Spain’s political chessboard have been kept out; they have come out of these elections in a slightly worse situation than in December, but they are also very disappointed because they had hoped for much more.

From what has emerged, it would seem that Spaniards have few aspirations. That Rajoy is back again, means there is no alternative. But there are causes for concern, like the PP’s irrelevance in two key autonomous regions: Catalonia and the Basque Country. And also its difficulty in reaching a pact with other political forces. Taking all this into account, it requires a large dose of optimism to expect a strong government, with clear ideas and the capacity to implement them.

After two agonising elections, the political panorama in Spain is still full of uncertainties; few reforms, complicated agreements and lightweight programmes. A government probably will be formed this summer, but it is unlikely to run its full term.

About the Author

Fernando Gonzalez Urbaneja
Over 30 years working in economic journalism. Fernando was founder and chief-editor at El País, general editor at the business daily Cinco Días, and now teaches at Universidad Carlos III. He's been president of the Madrid Press Association and the Spanish Federation of Press Associations. He's also member of the Spanish press complaints commission.