Ethics do not exempt you from doing politics. This is the mistake that Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez is making, one that could end up strengthening Mariano Rajoy as a consequence. His proposal of ousting the prime minister and taking his place without “negotiating anything with anyone” is a mistake. Because politics exists precisely to convert what is desirable (or even imperative, as is the case here) into what is possible.
But according to Pedro Sánchez’s approach, the situation is precisely the opposite: the existence of an ethical imperative and a democratic urgency have seen him suspend politics and call on the rest of the 213 deputies in Congress who do not belong to the governing Popular Party (PP) to lend their votes unconditionally to the no-confidence motion filed by the PSOE.
There is a double trap in play here: the interests of the rest of the parties – which are as legitimate as those of the PSOE, and which don’t have to accept a Sánchez government without conditions nor time limits – are being demonized, while at the same time the interests of the PSOE in taking power (also legitimate) and in avoiding immediate elections are being hidden (it appears that in the PSOE, in contrast to what is being said publicly, they do trust in the opinion polls). As such Sánchez is presenting an implausible proposal: you sacrifice yourselves for the common good by paving the way to me being prime minister with no conditions, and I will sacrifice myself by governing alone for the amount of time that I deem fit so as to get to a fresh general election in the advantageous position of being in government. And they are surprised that this offer is so grating?
Sánchez is disregarding the fact that in democracy, the general interest should be compatible with the individual interest, and that this is precisely the job of the politicians. But it is not too late. Sánchez can still do what he failed to do when the Gürtel ruling was made public: shut himself away in a meeting room with Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera and Unidos Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias, and not leave until they come up with a solution for the voters to the problem that Rajoy’s continuance in the role of prime minister presents.
The PSOE, Unidos Podemos and Ciudadanos count on 188 deputies in Congress, more than the 176 that are needed to win the no-confidence vote and call elections. If their leaders believe in what they say, they have no excuse to not achieve a government deal, albeit a technical or political one, which can be immediately dissolved, or indeed in a year – that’s up to them. They don’t need anyone else, and nor do they have to cozy up to the pro-Catalan independence parties to make this happen.
The most important reason to reach agreement is that if they don’t, political arithmetic, which is what makes democracy function and gives it its legitimacy, will sweep away the ethical question. If the PSOE does not manage to secure the support of 176 deputies for its no-confidence motion, the political crisis will be over and Rajoy will be able to say, rightly, that he has survived the motion aimed at censuring the government and that he can continue to govern, albeit for the time being. The interests of Rajoy and Sánchez converge on one point: avoiding immediate elections. It would be regrettable were those interests to converge to leave Rajoy in power.
English version by Simon Hunter.