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Cutbacks and disillusionment

The deterioration of the economy spreads to politics, with discontent focused on the parties

The deterioration of Spain’s economic footing has definitely spread to politics, according to a recent survey; a situation that may worsen further if politics spills onto the streets next year, as is being predicted in many quarters. The survey was carried out before July 11, when Rajoy announced the largest cutback in the recent series. Had it been made afterward, the results would probably have been even worse. Public disillusionment is reflected in the rapid decline of the governing party’s vote expectations, at the rate of one percentage point per month since its election in November, while of that of the main opposition party has risen only one point.

The survey expresses the public’s simultaneous mistrust of government and opposition — and of their respective leaders — as being incapable of finding a way out of the crisis. The opinion that the political parties are the main problem, after unemployment and the crisis, has risen in three months from 18 to 25 percent.

The significant rise registered by the other two Spain-wide political formations, IU, (which increased by 10 points) and UPyD (1.9) is not sufficient to suggest that they might be capable of heading alternative formulas for government. They may, however, come to function as swing parties to complete center-right or center-left majorities, taking over the function so far performed by the regional nationalist parties.

Also notable is the effect that the economic crisis is having on regional politics. After years of continual pushing, during the boom, for a higher level of autonomy in all the regions, almost 40 percent of citizens are now calling for a return to the centralized state (22 percent) or a reduction of regional powers (17 percent). This is not incompatible with a pro-independence radicalization in Catalonia and the Basque Country — in both cases with a new accent on what they consider the advantages of an uncoupling from Spain — to climb out of the crisis.

We face a situation that requires an effort of coordination between the major parties, and between the central government and the regional ones, to cope with the double crisis; political and economic. This also involves social interlocutors such as the unions. On Tuesday the leaders of the two major unions spoke with the king, at the latter’s request. Fernández Toxo and Méndez said they had discussed the desirability of submitting the government’s cutbacks to a referendum. This is not a good proposal. They invoke the (failed) precedent of Papandreu in Greece, an experience that indicates that things may take a turn for the worse if the politicians, instead of accepting responsibility for their measures, pass it on to the population.

There could be no worse combination than an autumn of demonstrations prior to such a referendum. Were the parliamentary majority thus overruled, it would not only aggravate the crisis but foment an institutional conflict within the democratic system: what we least need at the moment.

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