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A pact is needed

The government has an absolute majority, but the gravity of the situation requires broad, cross party consensus to restore confidence and trust

Support for the Popular Party and its leader, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, although the Socialist Party, and its leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, have not benefitted, according to the latest opinion poll carried out by Metroscopia on behalf of EL PAÍS. In the aftermath of the unprecedented spending cuts and tax hikes imposed by Rajoy, contrary to what he promised while in opposition, there is a widespread feeling that this government is no longer able to manage the economic situation, with a growing belief that the Socialist Party could probably do a better job. Anger and frustration among the electorate are to some extent benefitting smaller parties like the United Left or the UPyD, but there is also a growing danger of voter apathy. One victim of this crisis could be this country’s political system if the two main parties that have controlled Spain’s institutions for the last three decades are no longer seen as credible by the electorate.

For the first time we are seeing disaffection among traditional Popular Party voters, a group that until recently was unshakable in its support.

Only half those who voted PP in the November general elections said that they would support the party in 2015. Given that the elections are still some way off, this is little more than an indicator of people’s mood, but we have seen this before. When former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced spending cuts and other measures to deal with Spain’s mounting public deficit in May 2010, support for the Socialist Party fell off sharply, and has yet to recover previous levels. The current administration has shown itself a poor gauge of the public’s mood, announcing that it intends to further tighten Spain’s already restrictive abortion legislation, something opposed by two thirds of practicing Catholics.

The crisis has not only highlighted the electorate’s lack of confidence in the political elite, but also brought into question Spain’s system of regional devolution of power. Eight out of 10 PP and Socialist Party voters believe that the request for financial help from the central government by a number of regions, among them Valencia, Catalonia, and Murcia is a sign that the autonomy enjoyed by these regions needs to be reined in.

The Prime Minister has not handled the crisis well. He has failed to explain his policies and actions to voters, and has not encouraged dialogue with the opposition to reach consensus over measures that growing numbers of people see as making them pay for wrongs committed by others. An overwhelming majority of people want to remain in the single currency, something that cannot be achieved without further sacrifice.

This fall will see further difficult decisions having to be made. The government cannot go it alone, something that Rajoy admitted when appearing before Congress on July 11. The time has now come to put that into practice. The Prime Minister has the responsibility and the legitimacy to attempt to put together a project to restore confidence and trust, something that will not be possible without the support of the country’s other political forces.

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