Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez of the Labour-type PSOE party has dissolved parliament and called elections for 28 April. He had failed to win parliamentary approval for his budget.
He presented this as “the most social budget in history”, a claim supported by Unidos Podemos, the coalition of Podemos and the Communist-led United Left.
In fact, his proposed budget contained less money for social services as a percentage of GDP than almost any of the budgets of the former right wing government of Mariano Rajoy’s PP. Behind some symbolic improvements, the Socialist government has maintained the European Union’s austerity policies.
Sanchez came to office nine months ago, replacing Rajoy’s government, hit by serious corruption scandals and protests in the street. A no confidence motion was supported by PSOE, Unidos-Podemos and the Basque and Catalan parties. However the new government soon betrayed the expectations that many people had in it.
For example, the earlier widely publicised welcoming of ships carrying refugees gave way to a discreet blockage of rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
This new electoral announcement is the latest act in the ongoing political instability of the Spanish state.
This has several causes that won’t disappear after the elections—notably the Catalan conflict and the ongoing effects of the 2008-2010 economic crisis.
The key fracture in the Spanish state is currently the national question. Around 80 percent of the Catalan population wants a referendum on self-determination. It would decide whether to remain within the Spanish State or become independent.
The Spanish state responded with repression and imposition to the 2017 push for independence, attempting to stop a referendum and imprisoning Catalan leaders. These political prisoners are currently on trial in the Spanish supreme court, where state prosecutors continue to demand long prison sentences for a non-existent “violent rebellion”.
The right wing PP and Ciudadanos parties, and part of the PSOE, have responded to this by promoting an extreme Spanish centralism. This, together with the corruption scandals that still plague the PP, has opened the door to the growth of the far-right party Vox.
Formed as a right wing split from the PP, Vox entered the Andalusian parliament in December 2018 with 12 seats and nearly 11 percent of votes cast—though only 6 percent of the total electorate. Given this threat, building united movements against racism and the far-right—along the lines of the call issued by UCFR Catalunya and other movements— is an urgent task across the Spanish state.
The political instability also has its roots in the economic situation. The response to the 2008 economic crisis—first at the hands of Zapatero’s PSOE government and then of Rajoy—made working people pay the price.
While rescuing the bankers with public money, they cut social services, and made sackings easier and cheaper. Officially the economic crisis is behind us but working people continue to suffer from its effects, generating a malaise with the mainstream parties.
This could and should have led to a growth of a left wing alternative. But Podemos, formed only five years ago, has abandoned its initial radical promises to reveal itself as just another mainstream party, backing the PSOE with very few criticisms. Sanchez will be calculating that he can win back many of the voters the PSOE had lost to Podemos—why vote for the copy when you can have the original?
Right now, the alternative depends on mobilisation from below, with union struggles, broad movements in defence of public services, the movement for state pensions and a powerful women’s movement.
In this context, there are opportunities for the anti-capitalist left to grow if it is able to combine a defence of basic principles —from Catalonia’s right of self-determination to an economy based on people’s needs— with proposals for concrete struggles.
There will be important battles in the months before the elections, such as the general strike called for International Working Women’s Day, 8 March, and the international mobilisations against the far-right of 16-23 of March.