March 2013        


Spain swings to the left

Huge angry demonstrations, bordering sometimes on civic unrest, and strikes against the government’s austerity measures occur almost daily in Spain. Unlike Ireland, where class politics is poorly developed, with governmental austerity measures leading to increased support for Fianna Fáil away from the Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition—turning from Tweedledum to Tweedledee—Spanish discontent is reflected in a surge of support for parties of the left.
      Certain evidence that members of the present ruling party, the so-called People’s Party, have received envelopes stuffed with large payments derived from illicit donations to the party, mainly from the building industry, adds fuel to the flames. Government ministers are now taunted by ordinary citizens wherever they go with shouts of “Give us an envelope!” and “Get the hell out!”
      Voting intentions have shifted radically from the beginning of the year to mid-February. The People’s Party—now governing with an absolute majority—has seen its popular support slump from 46 per cent at the time of election over a year ago to the present 29 per cent, while that of the social-democratic Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party (PSOE), a grossly ineffectual opposition, has fallen from 36 to 30 per cent over the same period.
      The parties that have most capitalised on the government’s failure are the United Left (IU), whose popular support has risen in this period from 9.4 to 12.3 per cent, and the ultraconservative UDP, from 6.8 to 10 per cent.
      As continuing trials and revelations reveal deep levels of corruption and the economic situation further deteriorates, these voting intentions seem likely to intensify. If present patterns continue, a left coalition of the PSOE and IU could well succeed the present PP government, or, possibly, a PSOE minority government supported by IU.
      Catalunya could be a harbinger of things to come. Before the elections last December a minority conservative nationalist party, CiU, ruled there with the support of the ultra-conservative PP. After the election a CiU minority government, with the support of a greatly strengthened Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC), which, on a programme of socialism and Catalan independence, mopped up seats lost by the CiU. The CiU has now in effect to dance to the ERC’s tune, and the latter is reaping the dividend. (Imagine a minority Fianna Fáil government supported by a genuinely radicalised Sinn Féin.)
      Significantly, the most recent surveys of the voting intentions of Catalans show that the ERC has now surpassed CiU as the most popular party in Catalunya. If the independence referendum planned for next year were held now, 55 per cent of Catalans would opt for full national independence, with only one in five choosing to maintain the Spanish connection.
      The position of the king, Juan Carlos de Borbón, as a symbol of national unity has been greatly eroded by scandals involving his family and the king himself. The secretary of the Catalan Socialist Party called recently for his abdication, giving voice to a widely popular sentiment. The trial of his son-in-law for having allegedly appropriated €8 million of public money, and reported attempts by the king, allegedly in the know about this sordid affair, to get the press to moderate their reports of the proceedings add fuel to public anger.
      The fact that the flag of the second Spanish Republic is much more prominent in protest demonstrations than the official national flag is no coincidence.
      The leader of the People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, has announced that, with its present absolute majority, the party intends to stay in power until the end of its term.
      However, increasing levels of union militancy and civic unrest, along with the legal investigation of serious corruption charges involving the PP, including Rajoy himself, place a big question mark beside that intention. The longer the PP clings to power, the stronger will be the left backlash.

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