Constructive political approaches

More than 40 percent of Spaniards say they don’t vote, or don’t know which way to vote

Today’s debate in Spain’s Congress is a chance for the change of course that Spanish society imperiously needs, if the politicians do not wish to drag the constitutional system down into irreparable discredit. Congress is an institution currently held in scant regard by the average citizen. As, indeed, are the government and Spain’s political parties. The debate may well see the politicians drone on, with yet another litany of vague generalities, mutual attacks, bluffs and provocations, as they are wont to do. But it would be far more constructive for them to focus their energies on a serious discussion of the minimal conditions needed for Spain to climb out of an economic abyss as dark as that announced following the April 26 Cabinet meeting.

Today’s debate comes in a context of malaise, political debacle and fear of the future, as observed by Metroscopia and other private opinion-poll firms for several months now, and corroborated by the official research agency CIS in a survey released last week. More than 40 percent of Spanish people regularly live with their backs turned to the electoral process: some abstain more or less on principle, others simply say they don’t know whom to vote for. And the average citizen, weary of what they have long known as the constituted power, is losing confidence in the Popular Party (PP) and the government, while the Socialist Party (PSOE) has yet to recover the credit it lost due to the fumbling of the Zapatero government.

The loss of popularity of both the PP and the PSOE stems from a broad pool of social discontent, and a certain current of anti-PP sentiment apparently comes from people who abstained in the last general elections, held in the fall of 2011. Meanwhile, the grass-roots electorate of the PSOE has been giving signs of impatience or radicalization.

Hence the sensation that the existing arrangement of two-party alternation in power is approaching the end of its cycle, though it is still impossible to determine whether we are looking at an irreversible phenomenon. The hinge or splinter parties (IU, UPyD) are penetrating the resulting breach, and the political system seems headed toward parliamentary fragmentation, with the risks of ungovernability that we have lately seen in Italy. Or, closer to home, in Catalonia, where only a more or less illusory bid for secession sustains the center-right Catalan nationalist party CiU, which has been one of the principal cogs in the system since the Transition to democracy after Franco, but has lately been losing votes to pro-independence parties.

This is the context in which the government announced its gloomy prospects last week. The message could have been delivered in the style of a facing up to facts regarding the reality of our situation — provided that it had been followed by abundant explanations and a blood-sweat-and-tears homily on the part of Rajoy and his team, coupled with some serious negotiations on how to share the sacrifices demanded, or on how to overcome the present deadlock. But this latter part was entirely lacking. We can only hope that the leaders are capable of reorienting their political approaches in a more constructive sense.