Social Democrats have always been the victims of their own opportunism. We are seeing the party disappearing in Europe. In many nations, as in Germany, they are a zombie party. Often they receive a second or third chance, but as in Spain, they are not able to overcome their own corruption through Neo-liberalism.
Victor Lasa is a PhD candidate with the Centre for Global Research, RMIT University, and chief editor of the Spanish news site Geopolitica HOY.
Cross-posted from Counterpunch
It was never going to happen. Three months of agonizing inaction by current Spanish President, Pedro Sanchez, has resulted in no coalition agreement to create a progressive government for Spain between his PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the amalgamation of parties and social movements sourced off the Indignados protests in 2011 . Nothing seems to have changed since 2011, when people chanted that the PSOE and the PP (the conservative Partido Popular) are the same thing, or more accurately, “the same shit”. PSOE is still hostage of the real powerholders in the country; Big Banks.
History tends to repeat itself, and this is a ridiculously obvious example. Sanchez finds himself in the same situation he was in 2016, when he tried to create a coalition government after a failed attempt by PP. Back then, he found his most obvious partner Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias too greedy and unreliable to create a partnership, blaming his ambition for stopping a progressive government from forming. In parallel, he looked to his right and found in neoliberal Ciudadanos an unusual partner. Their agreement, which allegedly included a clause expressly excluding Podemos from any potential partnership, was rejected by Parliament and the country was condemned to repeat the elections, which would be won again by PP .
Shortly after that, Sanchez was deprived of the party leadership by its own apparatus. In an astonishing subsequent interview Sanchez himself recognised there was a lot of pressure coming from powerbrokers to stop him from creating a left-wing government together with Podemos . He pointed his finger at the relevant businessmen and media representatives. Everything seemed to be lost for him, not having even a seat in Parliament. Nonetheless, he managed to surprise everybody with a Hollywood-style come back in 2018, beating the apparatus’ candidate Susana Diaz at the PSOE’s primary elections with a left-wing discourse sourced off Podemos’ narrative. In a couple of months, the first successful impeachment in Spanish parliamentary democracy took down PP’s Mariano Rajoy and made him President. A manoeuvre designed and executed by Pablo Iglesias, who managed to build an almost impossible coalition of progressive parties and Basque and Catalonian nationalist and independentists. The latter would let his government fall after a short 8 month-term. Still, Sanchez won the subsequent national elections last April 28 with 123 members of parliament, far from the 176 needed for a majority.
Like in 2016, Sanchez now needs Podemos’ 42 MPs in order to create a minority coalition stable enough to survive more than 8 months in government. Nonetheless, the only lesson he seems to have learned after his political odyssey is that of not disobeying powerbrokers, who have been quite outspoken this time about their desire not to see any Podemos member in government. Bank owners and business leaders stated from the day after the elections a coalition with Podemos would be “catastrophic”. Still, Sanchez doesn’t talk anymore about any kind of external pressure, instead he reflects that his own “convictions” are the reason why he can´t accept a coalition government with Iglesias. Again.
Negotiations were supposed to start on April 29, one day after the general elections. Those negotiations only gained momentum this last week, approximately 48 hours before the deadline set by the King of Spain. Even when calling Unidas Podemos (UP) a “preferent partner”, PSOE never gave the impression of being really interested in a coalition. Rather, they used euphemisms like a “cooperation government” to explain there was no need to have UP ministers at the President’s cabinet. Like in 2016, PSOE publicly rejected UP’s apparent “greed” in trying to obtain government seats.
The man behind the PSOE negotiation strategy is Ivan Redondo, Chief of Staff to the President. Redondo is a political communication professional who served some hard-wing PP conservatives for years before joining Sanchez. He is not a party-man or an ideologist, but a political marketing mercenary focused on branding Pedro Sanchez as President, no matter what the cost. Thinking that Redondo’s plan is more focused on beating Podemos in the battle to dominate the public narrative and to diminish their electoral chances in potential new elections would be a fair assumption. Sanchez has ended up using all kind of excuses and strategies to avoid the coalition, including leaks of Podemos documents that were edited and falsified by the office of the Vice-president, in a kindergarten-level propaganda effort that only took a couple of minutes for professional journalists to uncover .
The main excuse was always Iglesias. As Sanchez recently recognised, having him seated at the Ministers Cabinet was the problem. Iglesias considers the imprisoned Catalonian leaders, linked to the organization of an independence referendum last October, “political prisoners”. This for Sanchez is a clear sign that he is not ready to “defend the Spanish democracy” . Nonetheless, right and left analysts agree on the real reason Sanchez wouldn’t want Iglesias; he is too much to handle, a charismatic politician who could eventually be perceived as the real leader. A surprising move by Iglesias dismantled the whole narrative of PSOE excuses; he announced he wouldn’t be an obstacle for the coalition and would not seek a seat within government. This is something Redondo probably didn’t count on, as PSOE’s late and low-profile reaction showed. Only then there seemed to be some more substantial offers by PSOE for an actual coalition. However, they were considered as insufficient and even disrespectful by Podemos, as allegedly only important sounding seats were offered, but they lacked real budget and executive capacity.
After ruling out the coalition with Podemos, Sanchez announced that he will explore other options, knowing well these options are only to his right. Ciudadanos seems the only real alternative, as the PP is too big a historic enemy. Perhaps Redondo’s initial plan all the way, a coalition with Ciudadanos, feels difficult right now. Their leader Rivera insists he doesn’t want anything to do with Sanchez. It is a futile attempt by Rivera to lead the opposition from the right of the electoral spectrum, still well defended by the PP despite their decline.
PSOE has two more months now to attempt another coalition. Only time will tell whether they turn again towards Podemos or initiate an uncertain path towards political neoliberalism. This could well mean their end as political contenders in the Spanish left, opening the way for Podemos to take over. In any case this would be a wasted opportunity for Spain to recover social rights lost during the ever-damaging austerity measures era and more importantly, hope that things can be done differently. An opportunity wasted also for the European Union, where the leadership of Spain as its 5th economy pushing for Keynesian policies and real action on Climate Emergency could heavily influence the next years of continental politics.