The first reactions in the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) to the electoral failures in Galicia and the Basque Country have been critical, but expressed in vague terms. Some of those who supported the leadership candidate defeated at the last party congress, Carme Chacón, are now talking of revision of the party’s political program, but without defining in what direction; while the defenders of the present leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, promise an ideological renewal, without defining the content of it.
November 25 will see the country’s next regional election, this time in Catalonia, and the run-up to that poll is an unfavorable time for internal wrangling. After the Catalan elections, the Socialist Party will have to stop feeling its way with ambiguous words, and begin a real internal debate; otherwise it may well cease to be one of the pillars of Spanish democracy.
Since the electoral defeats in 2011, in which it lost most of its positions of official power, serious internal self-criticism of the party’s management has remained pending business. It is obvious that its sympathizers, and society as a whole, do not see the Socialist Party as an alternative to the government of Mariano Rajoy. It has been suffering a hemorrhage of votes, either to abstention or to other parties, and it is hard not to see this as a consequence of its last period in power — due not only to the lack of clear vision concerning the economic and financial crisis that was descending upon the country, but to a widening inequality in the distribution of wealth, precisely as a consequence of political decisions made in that period, most notably the defense of tax cuts as a leftist policy. Equally lacking is a clarification of the Socialists’ position on the regional organization of the Spanish state, apart from the vague talk of federalism that has likewise been left undefined by those who propose it. It is worth bearing in mind that the regional nationalist parties are now picking up the protest votes that the PSOE has lost.
The Socialist organization also needs to open itself up to society. It can no longer be limited to a party membership closely corseted in a system of groups and federations designed several decades ago, which is surely insufficient to cover today’s range of social issues and the concerns of the citizens, especially the young. The PSOE has announced that it will be holding a political conference, and this will be the place for debate on the manner of choosing candidates for elective office, particularly that of prime minister.
It is interesting to note that in France the Socialists went through a process of primaries open not only to members of the party, but to its sympathizers as well. From this process emerged the candidate to the presidency of the Republic, who in May won a hard-fought victory over Nicolas Sarkozy.
A root-and-branch reconstruction of the party, and its ideological rearmament, are key tasks. If they are not carried out, the PSOE runs the risk of drifting toward the fringes of Spanish politics.