Might Spain be headed for a snap election?

Might Spain be headed for a snap election?


A DAY is a long time in Spanish politics. On the evening of May 23rd Mariano Rajoy, the conservative prime minister, was celebrating his minority government’s success in getting this year’s budget through Congress, opening the way for him to see out another couple of years. The next day came a bombshell: a court gave its verdict in a long-running corruption trial involving past officials of the ruling People’s Party (PP) and in which Mr Rajoy himself testified as a witness last summer. Not only did the court sentence the party’s former treasurer to 33 years in jail, but it also found that the PP had benefited from kickbacks and cast doubt on the prime minister’s evidence.

With that, his rivals pounced. On May 25th Ciudadanos, a liberal party that has helped to keep Mr Rajoy in office (the PP formed only a minority government after elections in December 2016) and is leading in many opinion polls, demanded that he call an immediate general election. Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the opposition Socialists, filed a motion of censure against the prime minister. That may in the end doom Mr Rajoy; at a minimum it throws Spain into weeks of uncertainty. Spanish bonds and shares fell after Mr Sánchez’s announcement.

Mr Sánchez, whose party has only 84 of the 350 seats in the lower house of Congress and is becalmed at around 20% in the polls, said he would force an election “as soon as possible”. But not immediately: he proposes first to form a Socialist government that would attend to “social urgencies” and start “democratic regeneration”. Ciudadanos will not back him without an election date. But the censure motion could still pass with the support of Podemos, a far-left party, and Catalan and Basque nationalists.

The political crisis comes with Catalonia still subject to direct rule from Madrid following last autumn’s unconstitutional referendum and unilateral declaration of independence. Mr Sánchez has supported direct rule and has recently talked about toughening it if Catalonia’s new secessionist president takes any unconstitutional step. The Socialist leader said he would not negotiate with Catalan nationalists, but would accept their backing in Congress. Many voters, however, may not take kindly to a government installed without an election and with nationalist support.

Mr Sánchez says his aim is to lift Spain out of “the mire of corruption”. A string of scandals, most dating back a decade or more, has hurt the PP in the polls. Mr Rajoy accused his opponent of playing politics with Spain’s impressive economic recovery. The object is that “Sanchez be prime minister at any price and with anybody,” he said. Spain has grown tired of Mr Rajoy. But it may not warm to Mr Sánchez’s gambit, and that gives the prime minister a slim hope of survival.



Source link