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A legitimate government

The investiture of Pedro Sánchez offers Spain the small chance of returning to normality

Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez (l) and Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.
Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez (l) and Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.ULY MARTIN / EL PAÍS

Pedro Sánchez was voted back in as the prime minister of the Spanish government by Congress on Tuesday. The Socialist Party politician has now renewed his mandate as the head of the executive, a position he has held since leading a successful no-confidence motion in June 2018 against former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy following a corruption scandal involving his Popular Party (PP). The same forces that accused Sánchez of illegitimately taking power then are doing it again now that he has won the election and formed a majority. These forces present political positions as if they were constitutional imperatives and relativize the severity of the accusations they are spreading. Declaring a government formed on the basis of the people’s votes and through a process outlined in the Constitution as illegitimate is to declare legitimate any form of opposition, including coercion against the majority lawmakers.

The four years of political paralysis the country has seen have shown that there is a more futile situation than a minority government, and that is a caretaker government. The single-minded resistance of parliamentary groups to meet their most essential duties, such as forming a government from an elected parliament or reaching majorities to approve laws, has placed the constitutional system in the dangerous territory of exceptionality. Budgets have been extended, the mandate of bodies essential for the functioning of the state has expired, and laws by royal decree have become a normal instrument of the government. The investiture of Sánchez offers Spain a small chance to return to normality, bringing the country back from a political and institutional abyss in which it could no longer remain. In order to not squander this opportunity, the opposition needs to accept that its duty does not consist of spreading accusations in an attempt to righteously tear up the government in the hope of making electoral gains at whatever cost, but rather in controlling the government’s actions and offering alternatives.

The new executive that Pedro Sánchez will lead, in which Unidas Podemos will count on a deputy prime minister role as well as four ministers, is politically weak, meaning it will need to be irreproachable in its institutional actions if it is avoid falling mercy to the parties that are on its side or to the excesses of an opposition that says it is willing to erase the line between debate in parliament and ranting in the street. There is no need for it to cave in to the pessimistic predictions on the development of this political term, or that it be seduced by unfounded optimism. What’s important is that from now on the future depends exclusively on the decisions made by parties, because there is no metaphysical curse condemning Spain to being divided into two sides and cyclically destroying what has been built by everyone. Today, the responsibility of lawmakers does not concern the success or failure of a government, given that in a democracy it can always be replaced by another, but rather the country and its democratic institutions, so that serious, unaddressed problems can be resolved.

The 2008 financial crisis left serious scars in the lives of many people, coinciding with the state’s economic difficulties in maintaining levels of solidarity. According to the program that has won the trust of parliament, the Sánchez government will give preferential treatment to those citizens who were robbed by the recession of their homes, jobs, and the possibility of offering their children a decent life and, what’s more, of the certainty that, under the 1978 Constitution, being a citizen means more than waving flags and revering historical myths. Precisely because its program correctly makes inequality a priority, it is important for the new government to take into consideration the budgetary impact of the measures it adopts, as well as the instruments to finance these, and so avoid the balance between expenditure and revenue from slipping out of control. Tax reform that makes set social objectives viable, while respecting Spain’s EU commitments, requires more than selectively hiking two types of levy. The rest of the economic reforms in the agreement between the Socialist Party and Unidas Podemos – from those regarding ecological transition and the future of pensions, to the minimum salary and labor reform – could be likewise compromised if the propaganda effect is put before technical competency.

The abstention of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) was decisive in the success of Pedro Sánchez’s investiture, and was reached with Sánchez’s commitment to address the crisis in Catalonia from within the Constitution. But despite all this, ERC spokespersons did not refrain in the investiture debate from juggling signs of eased tension with signs of contempt for the act in which they were participating. This two-faced approach says less about the strength of the ERC in Congress and more about their weakness in Catalonia, and not because it is still unclear who will win the electoral battle for hegemony of the pro-independence camp, in which they appear to have a lead. The ERC leaders who backed the agreement with the Socialist Party have done so because they know that sooner or later the separatist movement will have to answer to its voters for having pursued a path that is condemned to failure, and that only goes round in circles to conceal the lack of progress. The transparency of the negotiations is, in any case, essential, as is respect for the institutions, beginning with the figure of head of state.

The difficulties involved with exercising power from a minority government, such as the one that will be led by Pedro Sánchez, does not excuse him from exercising authority, or avoiding decisions that require the approval of the opposition and making them pay the political cost for avoiding the most basic duties of state, if it comes at that. Far from weakening Pedro Sánchez and his new government, this institutional contention could translate into a political power that parliamentary arithmetic has denied them.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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