Winners and losers of Spanish political deadlock

Political deadlock has been the story in Spanish politics ever since the landmark December 2015 general election that put an end to the traditional two-party system in the country. Although the incumbent Prime Minister Rajoy and his PP party won a plurality of votes, the party’s majority was lost and Rajoy declared he could not form a government, handing the job over to the socialists (PSOE). The PSOE themselves have been going back and forth trying to bring together an alliance with Podemos, or with Ciudadanos, or both over the past few months. Unfortunately Podemos refuses to work with Ciudadanos and PSOE cannot reach a majority in parliament with only one of the parties. If no agreement is reached before May 2, new elections will have to take place in June this year. The deadlock and negotiations are frustrating to many Spaniards and Spanish politicians, but beneficial to some parties.

One of the winners of the chaos is Rajoy as the PP is seen, according to recent polls, as the party that is most likely to maintain and even increase its support compared to the December elections. While voters become frustrated with the lack of will of politicians to form a government, Rajoy has already passed the job over to the socialists, avoiding the image of being a hindrance to the formation of a government. Despite the many corruption cases against the party at a regional (and national) level, polls show the PP again winning a plurality (but not majority) in any upcoming election.

Another winner of the deadlock has been leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera. The leader of one of the new parties, originating from Catalonia but now running nationally, enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of any party leader. While Podemos has been seen as disruptive and internal divisions have surfaced within the party, Ciudadanos and Rivera have been open to negotiations with both the PP and PSOE. In the eyes of the voter, Rivera may be seen as less extreme and more pragmatic. Such an image could help to sustain or even grow the party’s support if voters head back to the polls.

On the other side, both parties on the left can be considered the losers of the stretched out battle to form a government. PSOE is likely to further lose support if new elections are to be held. Party leader Pedro Sánchez has been unable to bring Podemos and Ciudadanos together and even negotiations with Podemos have been tense and often unsuccessful. The party is also hindered by being attached to the old Spanish political establishment. Spanish voters sent a clear message in December: they want an end to the two-party system that had previously dominated Spanish politics. Unfortunately for PSOE, they are a symbol of this establishment and their voters are not always as loyal as the PP’s, nor are they more likely to turn up to vote on election day.

Podemos is another loser in the post-election chaos. Party leader Pablo Iglesias has often refused to negotiate with Ciudadanos and the party continues to insist on an independence referendum for Catalonia, inconceivable for the other major parties. Negotiations with the socialists have been ongoing and while there are sometimes rays of hope, it has usually ended badly. On top of this, the party has begun to see internal issues like public infighting as tensions mount over whether or not the party should agree to govern with PSOE and Ciudadanos. On April 19, an internal referendum showed a large majority of party members that voted (nearly 90%) opposed a government with PSEO and Ciudadanos. On the other hand, they overwhelmingly voted for a leftist government with PSOE and other smaller more left-wing parties. The image of the party is suffering and recent polls predict Podemos would actually lose support in new elections compared to its historic 20% in December.

Perhaps the biggest loser of all is the Spanish voter who still does not have a government some four months after the election. The caretaker government remains in place and the parties continue to squabble over who will govern, all the while another election looms over the entire situation. Turnout is likely to be low as polls have shown a vast majority of Spaniards do not want to have another election.

What will happen in the coming weeks is still unclear but the doors leading to a possible government appear to be closing. With Podemos ruling out a coalition with PSOE and Ciudadanos, the number of possible coalitions continues to dwindle and new elections are looking more and more likely. PSOE seems unlikely to agree to a leftist coalition with Podemos and other smaller leftist parties but the party has little other choice if Podemos and Ciudadanos will not work together. The PP, if it were to have another shot at trying to form a government, would also be unable to form a coalition as PSOE has stated it will not form a grand coalition. PP and Ciudadanos MPs together are still not enough to form a majority in the parliament and Podemos will never work with the PP.

New elections look likely, but will they change anything? Polls show the PP having the best chance of gaining some support back and Ciudadanos may also win over more voters as their party leader has the best approval rating of any of the main party leaders. PSOE and Podemos are both more likely to lose support, especially the latter. In the end it seems that, following a new election, the PP may be able to hold on to power with Ciudadanos as a junior partner in a coalition government if the two parties manage to attract enough new votes and are still willing to work together. This bodes bad news for Podemos who continue to obstruct coalition negotiations despite the signs that it will suffer in the event of fresh elections.

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