The truth about how Spain is changing

Polls and first debate suggest no hope for Spanish unity

Nov 04, 2019, 6:08 pm
Analysis: The country's political class appears to be aware, however, that another global economic crisis is just around the corner.

Spaniards vote again on Sunday in the country's second general election this year. A 10-poll rolling average shows the PSOE, Ciudadanos and Podemos down compared to the election in April or to the start of September. The Popular Party (PP) and Vox are up. If the polls are right, Vox is still rising and set to move from fifth to third place and Ciudadanos is still falling in the opposite direction, from third to fifth. After five months of refusing point-blank to do any kind of a centre-left deal with Sánchez, thus contributing to this second general election being called, Inés Arrimadas (Ciudadanos) declared at the first election debate on the public channel TVE on Friday night that "Sánchez is an obstacle […] we know how to reach agreement".

If we look at the CIS national public survey, Spaniards' top ten problems can be summed up as: jobs and the economy, politicians and corruption, healthcare and education, immigration and Catalonia. Spokespeople for seven parties in Congress at that first debate on Friday did not want to talk about corruption, healthcare, education or immigration, and nor do the leaders of the five main national parties (PSOE, PP, Podemos, Ciudadanos and Vox) at tonight's second TVE debate. The topics are just not on the list, although Vox has protested, to no avail, about the lack of an immigration block (but has not complained about healthcare or education). The debates are as softball as they come; the TVE "journalist" on Friday night limited his interventions to reminding the politicians they had overrun by a few seconds. They asked each other questions.

Listening to the debate, it was difficult to see how they might agree on anything at all in the coming parliament—which will be split more ways than ever before—never mind pass a budget, fix the Catalan separatist problem or do anything remotely involving constitutional reform. Spain's political class appears to be aware that another global economic crisis is about to hit the world, which is better than them not being aware of that scenario, but there was no suggestion they could agree on any kind of national preparations.

The right promised to lower taxes and thought the PSOE was doing badly for Spanish farmers, while Podemos and Esquerra argued for different varieties of wealth redistribution and increasing taxes on the rich. Mrs. Montero, for Podemos, suggested 500,000 jobs could be created by getting an army of builders to refit housing to reduce electricity bills. Mr. Rufián (Esquerra), after party leader Oriol Junqueras was convicted of the misuse of public funds by the Supreme Court, argued that "what is very good for a country is not stealing, that works great".

Most of the rest of the discourse was laundry lists of election manifesto items related to each area, interspersed with snide ideological jibes at the others. The ladies sparred on feminism—"womanism is not feminism", suggested the PSOE spokeswoman, Mrs. Lastra—and there was a notable clash between the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Vox over the "racist, homophobic, chauvinist" founder of the Basque Nationalist Party, Sabino Arana. Mr. Esteban (PNV) shot back a number of times that Vox were "Francoists" and refused to even shake Mr. Espinosa de los Monteros' hand after his comments on Arana, marking a new low for Spanish political manners, which have been on a downward slope for a number of years now.

On Catalonia, no consensus was apparent either. "An ongoing coup", said Vox, arguing for a hardline declaration of a state of exception in the region. "What is Spain for the Prime Minister?", wondered Ciudadanos: "the PSOE helps Puigdemont to spy on our children". The Socialist Party defends Spain's "nationalities, diversity and plurality", replied Mrs. Lastra. "Plurinationality is smoke and more fire", said Mrs. Álvarez de Toledo for the PP, in reference to the recent riots in Barcelona: "the independence movement must lose all hope". "You have failed", she spat at Mr. Rufián (Esquerra). He said he wanted more talk and dialogue, framed the jailed convicts as political prisoners" and suggested the right in the rest of Spain would prefer it if "más de dos millones de personas en Cataluña dejen de existir". Mr. Esteban, the Basque Nationalist, warned that "what we are not going to tolerate in the next parliament is the regulation by Congress of powers that belong to Spanish regions".

Spain and its political class are now split at least six ways (seven, eight or more if we include all the regional nationalists). No party is anywhere close to a majority and the polls suggest that even a three-way coalition on either the left or the right will not be enough to get past the required 176 seats in Congress (out of 350 in total). The second debate with party leaders begins at 10 p.m. on Monday evening.

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