Spain: A non-governmental organisation?

As repeat elections are forced on Spain, public political fatigue could facilitate the rise of authoritarian actors.

    Some observers have found cause for optimism in Spain's current predicament , writes Fernandez [Belen Fernandez]
    Some observers have found cause for optimism in Spain's current predicament , writes Fernandez [Belen Fernandez]

    During a visit to Barcelona in December just after Spain’s general elections, I walked past a signboard outside a restaurant displaying the following quip in Spanish: "If the Spaniards were dinosaurs, we'd have voted for the meteorite."

    The implication, of course, was that by regularly voting for destructive political formations Spaniards were facilitating their own doom.

    The metaphorical meteorite in this case was the incumbent right-wing Popular Party (PP), which has in recent years presided over punitive austerity measures and rampant corruption. Spain's industry minister recently resigned after the Panama Papers revealed problematic offshore investments.

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    Unemployment in Spain is currently more than 20 percent, and youth unemployment is even higher. The effects of the economic crisis have also been acutely felt by the victims of mass home evictions; in 2012, the Associated Press reported that 500 such operations were being carried out per day across the country. The eviction epidemic was widely linked to a spike in suicides.

    Austerity regime

    The austerity regime, it bears mentioning, was put in place in 2010 by none other than the nominal Socialist Party (PSOE), which with the PP has jointly monopolised the Spanish political scene for nearly four decades after the death of Francisco Franco.

    The relatively strong showing in the December 2015 elections by two new parties - the anti-austerity Podemos and the neoliberal Ciudadanos - overturned the status quo. While the PP still took most of the votes, it fell far short of a parliamentary majority.

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    The divided legislature has proved incapable of selecting a prime minister or forming a government, despite various attempts at coalition-building and some less-than-helpful interventions by the king.

    The divided legislature has proved incapable of selecting a prime minister or forming a government, despite various attempts at coalition-building and some less-than-helpful interventions by the king.


    In other words, Spain has become what you might call a non-governmental organisation in its own right.

    The deadline for government formation expired on May 2, and the king dissolved parliament the following day.

    For the first time in its modern democratic history, Spain has been forced to schedule repeat general elections, which will be held on June 26.

    I spoke with Barcelona-based sociologist Carlos Delclos, an editor at Roar Magazine, regarding possible outcomes of the next electoral attempt. He speculated that a number of voters might abstain from participating "out of general disappointment or exhaustion - it feels like we’ve been in campaign mode in this country since 2014".

    Even should everyone rush back to the polls, there are overlapping divisions in Spanish society that, Delclos said, "produce a substantial amount of fragmentation that makes governing majorities difficult to establish".

    Generational break

    Beyond the traditional left-right split, there's a "certain generational break between the generations born before and after the Transition from the Francoist dictatorship [that is] modulated by those who came of age during the Transition".

    There's also "a break between different national identities, modulated by support for the right of self-determination".

    Particularly divisive on this front is the issue of Catalonia and whether or not it should physically divide itself from the rest of Spain. According to an informal vote conducted in 2014, more than 80 percent of the Catalan population was in favour of independence.

    People march during a May Day rally in the centre of Barcelona, Spain [AP]

    Economist Daniel Raventos, a lecturer at the University of Barcelona, commented to me in an email that the "primary manifestation of the crisis" afflicting the existing post-Franco regime is this very "demand for the right to self-determination" - which is opposed by the "fiercely monarchist and unionist" parties: the PP, PSOE, and Ciudadanos.

    What's preventing the PSOE and Podemos from forming a coalition is, in fact, the latter's insistence on supporting an official referendum on the Catalan question.

    No understanding of Spain's political stalemate is meanwhile possible, Raventos emphasised, without an acknowledgement of bipartisan pandering to "suicidal procyclical austerity policies imposed from Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin".

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    Some observers have found cause for optimism in Spain's current predicament - such as James Bartholomew, author of a recent Spectator article titled "Why the Spanish may be better off without a government". (His penultimate Spectator piece, incidentally, was "Britain needs a museum of communist terror".)

    Political fatigue

    In Bartholomew's view, Spain is fortunate because the previous administration removed a requirement that companies "accept wage agreements made at a regional or sectoral level", enabling them to "make wage deals suitable for their own circumstances". Redundancy payments were also curtailed.

    Now that the Spanish government has even further reduced its interference in business affairs by effectively disappearing, Bartholomew foresees all sorts of opportunities for "generat[ing] wealth".

    Try telling that to Spain's millionsof unemployed.

    The phenomenon of an AWOL government might in and of itself be amusing, except for the high price tag of the repeat election operation, put at nearly 190 million euros by the Politico website in an April posting.

    Among the possible outcomes of the next round, according to the Financial Times, are gains by the PP and Ciudadanos.

    For his part, Delclos warns that potential public political fatigue could "provide room for authoritarian, anti-political actors to emerge". In this sense, he says, Ciudadanos could be "particularly dangerous".

    And if not, there's always the meteorite.

    Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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