• on Novembre 11, 2019

Spain’s deadlock continues. Forti “the Catalan crisis remains the problematic issue” 

The Spanish elections of 10 November, the fourth in four years, ultimately led to a dead end. “Little has changed. If anything, it has changed for the worse”: said Steven Forti, Professor of Contemporary History at the Independent University of Barcelona and researcher at Nova University in Lisbon. Forti is an expert analyst of Iberian society and politics: in the aftermath of the Spanish vote, he analyzed the outcome of the vote for SIR, which confirmed the lead of the Socialist Party – PSOE – of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (28.0% of the vote, 120 seats, down 3), albeit less well than predicted in April’s general election. The People’s Party – PP – reached 20.8% (88 seats, up from 66). Far-right Vox becomes the third biggest political force securing 15.1% – escalating from 24 to 52 seats. The left of Unidos Podemos lost a small number of seats, while the centrist far left Ciudadanos collapsed. Smaller parties gained considerable consensus, amidst a fragmented parliament.

Professor, was it yet another useless vote?

The data of every election must be carefully examined. At the moment, no “bloc” (neither left or right) won 176 seats needed for a majority. The deadlock has been lasting far too long. However, this time there are two new elements: the first is the rise of the far right with Vox’s success that took away votes especially from Ciudadanos. The second novelty appears to be the emerging weariness of voters; turnout at the polls has dropped by 4% and even Vox’s gains might reflect the citizens’ perception of a political leadership incapable of giving the Country a government and much-needed solutions.

PSOE lost seats, with an overall rise of the PP, while on the right there is a transfer of votes to Vox to the detriment of Ciudadanos. On the whole, parliament will be more fragmented also because of the presence of numerous smaller parties…

In fact the situation is extremely complex. There is a risk of not being able to form a parliamentary majority and a stable government. Sanchez, who wanted these elections in the hope of strengthening the position of PSOE, is now unquestionably weakened: his party has lost 700,000 votes.

It somewhat reminds me of the attempt of British Prime Minister Theresa May to turn to early elections to secure greater political strength, only to face a bad surprise.

As for Vox – mirroring the positions of Orban in Hungary and Salvini and Meloni in Italy – I believe that we are faced with a national populist force that offers simplistic recipes to complex problems. Vox has taken advantage of the clamour stirred by the protests in Catalonia and maybe even the episode of the transfer of the body of Francisco Franco…

In your view, what are the future prospects of Spanish politics?

There are several options. The first is for Sanchez to recognize the failure of his recent strategy, involving a centrist shift, by rebuilding – with the aim of a Progressive majority – relations with Podemos, thus forming a government that can count on the benevolent abstention of the smaller parties and of Catalan separatists. A second possibility, which I consider less feasible, is the creation of a kind of great Spanish coalition: or rather, a Socialist government with external support from the People’s Party. The third option, hitherto not taken into account, would be for the King to choose a personality not belonging to political parties, a widely respected figure representing civil society, to create an institutional government. One last possibility, which I cannot rule out, is a snap election. In that case, Vox would certainly gain more votes.

Do you think Spanish political leaders have something to make amends for? 

In my opinion, we are facing the clear inability of the political class as a whole to understand that times have changed, that public opinion and the electorate are much more fragmented than in the past, and that there are no “absolute majorities” for governing the Country. Parties and leaders must learn to build political and programmatic coalitions – hitherto unexplored in Spain – as is happening in most areas of Europe. There is also a fundamental issue.

What is it?

The Catalan crisis, which once again has been at the centre of attention and which has made its mark, in one way or another, on the general electorate. It’s a key issue in the life of the country that sooner or later will have to be seriously addressed. Surely not in tribunals! Spain’s political instability is also – and not only – a reflection of the Catalan problem, and so far Madrid has not received any alternative proposals to the request for independence, which is supported by only just below half of all Catalans. It is necessary to sit around a table and find a viable solution, such as a constitutional reform, or the granting of greater political autonomy, or a revision of the tax system … Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is largely responsible for the worsening of the situation, inherited by Sanchez when he formed the new cabinet at La Moncloa, but still unanswered. Nowadays, even pro-independence leaders here in Barcelona are unable to govern the protests, that often got out of hand and degenerated into violence. Catalonia’s younger generations have experienced the protests against Madrid as the only form of political participation, even with the promise of imminent independence. And now they are disappointed…

One last question: Spanish macroeconomic data have been positive for some time already. Has this influenced the popular vote?

The economy has fallen into the background in a debate marked, as mentioned, by other factors. In fact,  Gross Domestic Product is growing at a steady pace compared to the rest of Europe and unemployment rates have been declining since the disasters caused by the crisis. It is equally true, however, that many people are unemployed, especially young people, average wage-earners are struggling to recover, coupled by the fear of a new slump in GDP. None of this has had a direct impact on voting intentions.