Social democrats and Euros to hold hands at last?

Spanish elections

The general election in Spain on March 3 produced an intriguing result. Opinion polls had predicted that the conservative Popular Party led by José Aznar would win by a wide margin. In fact it came out in front, but failed to win an outright majority.

The governing party has long been the Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE), led by Premier Felipe Gonzalez. This has been an eminently capitalist government, presiding over austerity measures. Hugo Young in The Guardian on March 5 described Gonzalez as one of the pillars of “post-socialist world socialism”, someone who started on the left but moved towards the centre. Young said the Gonzalez government’s economic programme contained little that was clearly leftist.  His government has been riddled with corruption and other scandals, notably involvement with a rightwing death squad which targeted Basque separatists in the 1980s.

The Popular Party won 156 seats out of 350 in Spain’s parliament, but the PSOE only fell from 159 seats to 141. It is interesting to compare this modest PSOE decline with the rout suffered by the Australian Labor Party, another social democratic party that held power for too long.

Perhaps Spaniards decided to opt for the devil they knew when presented with a choice between two capitalist parties. It is also possible that the Popular Party suffered from being overtly rightwing. It was being claimed earlier that the legacy of the Spanish Civil War had been overcome. Many Spaniards have long been reluctant to vote for overtly rightwing parties after several decades of Franco. The March 3 election suggests that these inhibitions have not completely disappeared.

The Popular Party is now lumbered with the task of trying to create a coalition arrangement. For this, it particularly needs the support of the Catalan nationalist coalition, Convergencia i Unio, which has 16 seats. This toes a “centrist, pro-business line”, according to Reuters news agency on March 4. The problem for the Popular Party arises not from this, but from the fact that the Popular Party is itself based on Castilian Spanish nationalism.

Historically, Castilian Spanish authorities have tended to repress Catalan nationalism, especially during the Franco years. Again, this is a legacy of the civil war and its aftermath that is not so easy to remove.

The ex-Eurocommunist United Left managed a modest increase in seats, rising from 18 to 21. Gonzalez said reaching agreement with the United Left would be difficult, but not impossible.

Gonzalez and his party have kept the United Left at arm’s length in the past. The United Left thought a PSOE defeat might lead to the removal of Gonzalez and the creation of a ‘realignment of progressive forces’. It now looks as if they will not even lose Gonzalez from all this.

It is still possible that Gonzalez might form a minority government with United Left help, exploiting the Popular Party’s difficulties with the Catalans. A revolutionary or even ‘left’ outcome is not to be expected from such a deal though.

Steve Kay