Monday, June 04, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 4.6.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

  • Here's a Financial Times profile of Spain's new PM.
  • And here's Politico with 5 Takeaways from the Overthrowing of Rajoy.
  • And here's Think Spain with Sanchez's To Do list.¡
  • Perhaps the sickest person in Spain at Sanchez's triumph will be Suzana Díaz, the PSOE Presidenta of Andalucia, who led the failed attempt to oust him as leader last year.
  • As for Cataluña, most folk seem to think there's at least a glimmer of hope.
  • Looking back on last week, I enjoyed one of the cartoons in a local paper which had Rajoy and Zidane sitting on top of a hill, with Rajoy saying: “It's great to go out at the top, isn't it”.
  • Finally, on the events of the last few days, below are 4 editorials from El País, 2 from before Friday's vote and 2 from after it. They make interesting reading. El País used to be thought of as left of centre and, therefore, a supporter of Sanchez's PSOE party. This doesn't seem so obvious these days.
  • U.S. officials have begun using the phrase “environmental resilience” in place of “climate change”. WTF?
The UK
  • Reports Richard North: The latest survey of Tory members and activists conducted by the ConservativeHome website reveals that only 28 % of these dedicated Tories express confidence in the government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations. Almost two-thirds do not have any such confidence in the government Mrs May ostensibly leads. And if the prime minister cannot lead on Brexit, she cannot lead on — or receive credit for — anything else. Conservative members are exceptional. There are not much more than 100,000 of them, but for once they mirror the public mood.
  • A judge in Vigo has been suspended for working in her private time as a fortune teller/Tarot card reader. Apparently, she went so far as to stick adverts on the windscreens of cars parked near the court. Hard to believe but you have to be pretty smart to pass the relevant exams, I'm told. I wonder if she saw her suspension coming.
  • I got it wrong yesterday . . . It's the central government which is responsible for the AP9 autovia that crosses the Rande bridge. And for the issue of franchises. The local Galician government – the Xunta – is trying to get hold of control. So it can decrease tolls, it says.
  • I took a look at the stuff on display at the Sunday flea market yesterday. As ever, there was stuff which I find it hard to find is saleable. 1. Old farm tools abd other junk, and 2. Old horsehoes. Incidentally, the gypsies are back in town . . . :-

  • Yesterday was, I think, the feast of Corpus Christi. Here's the evidence:-
A video that might or might not work:-

Where the processors are heading for:-

Not exactly a big crowd
I wondered if the saint was endorsing the general strike mentioned on the poster . . .

Finally . . .
  • I confess to having a slight addiction to Heinz salad cream, not mayonnaise I stress. And I'm about to finish the last of the several large bottles I brought back in my car last October. Going on-line, I see I can get the 425gm bottle delivered here for GBP3.45, plus P&P, against GBP1.30-2.10 in the UK. Being rather tight when it comes to spending money on myself, I'm now left wondering just how addicted I really am.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 3.6.18



1. Why Spain needs early elections

Only a stable alternative government will be able to lead the country out of the current political crisis

The governance of Spain cannot be left in the hands of a political leader who has lost all credibility. The steady trickle of corruption scandals that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party thought they could survive has become a flood with last week’s court ruling on the massive Gürtel kickbacks scandal, and it has overwhelmed and drowned the party in a series of ever more devastating and unacceptable facts.

This ruling has irrevocably broken the defensive strategy followed by the government up until now and put an inexorable spotlight on two elements that have so far been able to survive: the organization, the Popular Party (PP), which has been rendered completely disqualified by its criminal nature; and its leader, Rajoy, whose statements on the existence of a corrupt and parallel accounting structure in the PP lack all credibility, according to the court and prosecutor.

It is a national emergency that cannot be solved simply with party compromises

That a court of law in a democratic state could reach such a damning sentence on the ruling party in government must only mean the most serious of consequences. The PP wanted to delay assuming political responsibility until the court had made its ruling. Now the ruling has been announced and the evasion of the issue of corruption has come to an end. The damage the party has done to itself with this defensive strategy is enormous, even suicidal regarding whether it can continue as the governing political force.

More serious still is the damage that could be done to the democratic system, which has already been eroded by corruption cases and the poor management of Spain’s most pressing problems, such as the Catalan secessionist drive, which is currently the main threat to the country’s stability.

The loss of confidence in the leader and the party that governs this country must be addressed by the people. Given the situation and the correlation of political forces in parliament, going to the polls is the only option that will achieve a stable and coherent alternative government that can take the helm and rescue Spain from the serious political crisis caused by the damning Gürtel ruling and the separatist drive. We cannot see any stable or consistent combination in the current composition of the parliament that offers an alternative government that can be formed as soon as possible.

It is a national emergency that cannot be solved simply with party compromises. It is the health of the governance of the country, clearly under threat today, that must be preserved above all else. Any agreement must be approved by early elections that put an end to a government that, given the current situation, will be on its last legs once its coalition partner Ciudadanos withdraws support for the party.

The leadership of Mariano Rajoy is at a dead end. The prime minister has missed the opportunity to make a graceful exit by calling early elections. The PP leader has also mistakenly handled the corruption scandals. Instead of developing a strategy to fight corruption, he has chosen to play down the accusation in the cases involving him, dismissing them as a spurious campaign and denying the charges. He has systematically avoided taking political responsibility, putting clarification of the facts in the hands of the courts, trusting that the time and logic of the justice system would exonerate his party of corruption.

The leadership of Spain cannot be left in the hands of a political leader who has lost all credibility

The accumulated damage of looking the other way has been enormous. Instead of cleaning up those responsible in an exemplary fashion and cutting off any root that even hints at corruption, the party has kept accused politicians in their posts until they were scorched by the media and public ire, causing irrevocable harm to the image of the party. The time bought with the judicial process has allowed an endless trickle of testimonies, accusations and rulings to spread the perception of the widespread corruption in the PP.

Nor the withdrawal of support by its coalition partner Ciudadanos or the presentation of a no-confidence motion by the main opposition have been able to force Rajoy to move an inch from the passivity that has caused so much damage to his party and to the country. His criticism that the Spanish Socialists’ (PSOE) no-confidence motion could weaken and damage Spain is another way of denying reality: we are not judging now the political tactics of others but rather Rajoy’s ability to continue governing the country, and this cannot be based on past possible economic successes but on his political and moral authority, which, at present, he lacks.

At this point, the least-damaging option to political and economic stability is to force early elections as soon as possible. It is too early to say what is the best instrument to reach this goal, but what is clear is that the main political forces should be able to arrive at an agreement.

The fragmentation of parliament and the number of parties that are pushing for unilateral independence at the expense of the law will make decision-making difficult. Compromising with the Catalan separatists would be crossing a red line. But we need to think about a political majority that can force Rajoy to consult the people. The markets and Spain’s risk premium have already warned of the danger of maintaining this political uncertainty.

2. An impossible government

The no-confidence vote will remove Mariano Rajoy as prime minister, but won’t produce greater political stability

The resistance of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to quit – there is still time, and we emphatically call on him to assume his responsibility and do so  – has left Congress trapped between two phases and with requirements that are very different to reconcile.

On the one hand, an unquestionable ethical imperative obliges the removal of the prime minister from his position – it was fitting that Rajoy’s farewell should have been marked by his absence during the second part of the no-confidence motion debate on Thursday afternoon. It is time for dignity to be returned to Spain’s politics and democratic institutions, far from the generalized corruption of the Popular Party.

If Congress is successful with its motion of no confidence, the time for ethical urgency should give way to the normal pace of politics under another government

On the other hand, if Congress is successful with its motion of no confidence against the government, the time for ethical urgency should give way to the normal pace of politics under another government, which should count on a program and the kind of parliamentary support that provides political and economic stability at a particularly delicate time. Unfortunately, this will not be the situation.

As was clear on Thursday in Congress, neither the prime minister nor the government can continue. But nor does the leader of the opposition, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), have the political capital to lead a stable and coherent executive. The governability of Spain is just about to pass from the hands of a leader, Mariano Rajoy, who is to blame for this institutional crisis due to his inability to deal with his political responsibility, to those of another leader, Pedro Sánchez, who is refusing to turn to voters to obtain a clear mandate to move forward.

With their refusal to call an election to resolve this serious crisis, the leaders of the two parties that have governed during Spain’s democratic period are showing that they do not have the confidence in themselves nor in their voters to renew the support that they were granted in other times. The refusal of one of the politicians to resign after having lost his majority, and of the other to go to the polls in order to seek a stable majority, has become an additional element in the crisis of the democratic system in which Spanish politics has found itself since 2015. In doing so, both of them are trying to avoid being punished at the polls, although it’s worth asking whether in the long term this approach will do more harm than good – this is most likely.

Proof of the artificial and impractical nature of a possible Sánchez government is the program that he presented on Thursday in Congress

The reality is that we are watching a duel between two politicians without a future; the last gasp, perhaps, of two party leaders who are desperately clinging on to one another as the currents drag them along. Both appeared to be calculating whether it is better or worse to hang on for a few months as prime minister to be able to run in the next elections in the best possible position. But our understanding is that it doesn’t matter who is in charge: both are sailing the vessel to a disastrous destination. At no time during the Sánchez-Rajoy duel was even the slightest concern for the interests of Spanish citizens there to see.

We fear that the already very serious crisis will get even worse should Sánchez manage to achieve his ambitions to get into government with the meager support of his 84 deputies in Congress, who  have only exceptionally managed to drum up an absolute majority for today’s vote. Governing a country that is facing political, economic, social and territorial challenges with such scant support will, without a doubt, generate further instability, and will contribute further to the deterioration of trust in Spain’s institutions.

Even more worrying is the desire expressed by Sánchez to “build bridges” and enter into “dialogue” with the pro-Catalan independence forces

Proof of the artificial and impractical nature of a possible Sánchez government is the program that he presented on Thursday in Congress, including the intention to govern with the budget plan recently approved by the PP, the party that he is hoping to oust. This is the very same budget that was subject to an amendment by the Socialists, who felt it was antisocial and regressive. Or consider his desire to take forward a key legislative agenda in terms of economic and social issues from a multi-colored government that, with just 84 PSOE deputies, only has the guaranteed support of 24% of the seats in Congress.

Even more worrying is the desire expressed by Sánchez to “build bridges” and enter into “dialogue” with the pro-independence forces in Catalonia, when it is known that this dialogue would only consist of when and how a referendum on independence for Catalonia would be held. It must be pointed out that the pro-Constitution bloc formed by the PP, the PSOE and Ciudadanos that managed the response to the Catalan crisis with the application of Article 155 had the support of 254 deputies – 72% of Congress.

Trying to govern without support, or, even worse, with support that is counterproductive, is imprudent

With its 84 seats, the PSOE will be the minority within its coalition of 180 deputies with whom it is planning to govern, given that all the other supporting parties (Unidos Podemos, Bildu, ERC, PDeCAT and PNV) are in favor, in one form or another, of the right to decide – a euphemism for a right to self-determination that does not fit within Spain’s Constitution. Can Sánchez aspire to manage the Catalan crisis from a minority position within his own parliamentary coalition, while a minority within the pro-Constitution bloc itself? It will be difficult.

Ousting Rajoy, we insist, is imperative. Trying to govern without support, or, even worse, with the kind of support that is counterproductive, is imprudent. As we have said, for the sake of avoiding the instability and discrediting of the democratic system, we are asking for the swift calling of elections, on a date agreed by all parliamentary groups who want to guarantee stability and governability and who think that the most efficient and democratic solution is to give a voice to the people.


1. New Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez: the unexpected survivor

The leader of the Socialist Party has recovered from many political setbacks over the last few years to become the new head of the government

In a little less than a year, Pedro Sánchez has won back the support of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and been named prime minister of Spain. The politician will now govern Spain after ousting former prime minister Mariano Rajoy with a successful no-confidence motion – a motion that only a week ago he was considering not filing, given that his party is floundering in the polls.

With this victory, Sánchez has completed his political revival, a process that began when he defeated party rival Susana Díaz and the rest of the PSOE leadership at the primaries on May 21, 2017. He will now lead the Spanish government with just 84 deputies (176 are needed for a majority). This will be a true test for a man whose political career has been marked by tenacity, luck and survival.

Sánchez will be the first prime minister in Spain’s history who is not also a deputy in Congress

Sánchez will be the first prime minister in Spain’s history who is not also a deputy in Congress. The fact that the 46-year-old does not hold a seat is the most evident scar of the feud that divided the Spanish Socialists two years ago. Sánchez resigned from his seat because he did not want to take part in the vote that would see Rajoy voted in as the prime minister of a minority government. This came after Sánchez lost a bitter party battle on October 1, 2016, and was forced out as the leader of the PSOE.

Sanchez’s refusal to take part in Rajoy’s investiture session is often used an example to show he is loyal to his principles. He did not want to follow his party’s decision to abstain from the vote but he did not want to vote against his party either. So he gave up his seat.

Today, Sánchez has ousted Rajoy with a no-confidence vote supported by Podemos and nationalist and separatist parties – the same combination some of the party’s leadership refused after the June elections in 2016 because they did not want to take office by making compromises with separatists.

But Sánchez insists he did not negotiate with the separatist parties to secure their votes. The Socialist leader has said his government will comply with the Spanish Constitution and would not recognize the right of self-determination for Catalonia.

There can be no doubt about Sánchez’s iron will. His strongest character traits are resistance and perseverance, something that he has shown when all the odds were against him. The most significant example of this was his overwhelming victory at the PSOE primaries in May last year, when both his detractors and supporters recognized his political growth. Those close to him describe Sánchez as determined and consistent, a person who sometimes lacks empathy and can be distant. His critics accuse him of being inconsistent and erratic.

Sanchez’s refusal to swear in Rajoy is often used an example to show he is loyal to his principles

Sánchez has a PhD in economics and has been in politics since 2000, when he was a delegate at the Spanish Socialist Party’s 35th national congress, which elected future prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as the party chief.

His first time in public office was as a councilor for the city of Madrid, a post he took up in 2004 after Elena Arnedo resigned. In a similar fashion, he was given a seat in Congress in 2009 and 2011, replacing Pedro Solbes and Cristina Narbona, respectively.

Sánchez is also a keen basketball player, playing in the Student Basketball Club until he was 21, where it is said he got his ambition to win. He is married to Begoña Gómez and has two daughters.

Sánchez has always wanted to be prime minister. He tried in 2015 by reaching a pact with Ciudadanos, which Podemos thwarted. He tried a second time and the PSOE leadership stopped him. And now he has done it thanks to a no-confidence motion.

2. A new era

Spain’s newly appointed prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, must form a solid government that facilitates stability

The sentence handed down last week by Spain’s High Court in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts corruption case has demonstrated the independence of the Spanish justice system and the fact that there is no impunity for the country’s politicians. On Friday, making legitimate use of the mechanisms available under the Constitution, parliament forced the Popular Party (PP) prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to assume the political responsibilities that he had so far evadedvia a no-confidence motion, which was headed up by Pedro Sánchez and that garnered enough support from his own Socialist Party (PSOE) and other groups in Congress to prosper.

By doing so, the correct functioning of the rule of law and the division of powers has left executive power – and with it the responsibility of forming a government – in the hands of Sánchez.

For many citizens, the immediate feeling after Friday’s events is one of relief

For many citizens, the immediate feeling after Friday’s events is one of relief, of highly charged emotions, and of moral imperative in the face of a series of corruption cases that have rocked their faith in Spain’s institutions. Now, however, it is the time for governance, something that obliges Sánchez to form a solvent executive that responds more to the whole of the country that he must lead rather than just the party he represents, which currently counts on just 84 seats out of a total of 350 in parliament.

When designing his government, the new prime minister cannot hope to satisfy the heterogeneous coalition of 180 deputies, of all political stripes, who have lent him their support. As many of the representatives of these parties stated when they took the stand during the no-confidence debate, they voted with Sánchez given their desire to see Rajoy ousted, not because they wanted to explicitly support the program presented by the PSOE nor necessarily form part of a future government.

That allows the new government to force itself to reach out to a wide range of Spaniards who are expecting a guarantee of stability from the new executive, as well as prosperity after the many sacrifices they have made after the deep economic crisis Spain suffered.

The government should be formed by those with the reputation needed to send an essential message of political, economic and constitutional stability both inside and outside of Spain

The future government is facing major challenges, from the continuation of the battle to generate more wealth and employment in an environment of huge precariousness, to the territorial challenges and independence drive that continues to thrive in Catalonia in spite of the suspension of autonomous powers in the region under Article 155 of the Constitution. As such, it is just as, if not more, important that the make-up and orientation of the new government is guided by criteria aimed at the defense of constitutional order as well as economic stability.

The government that Sánchez appoints is going to be provisional, not just in terms of time, given that he lacks a solid majority, but also because the elections that loom on the horizon will be present in all of his decisions. But this is no obstacle for it to be made up of figures with recognized value and prestige. On the contrary, given that what Spain needs at the moment is for any doubts about instability to be allayed, it should be formed by those with the reputation needed to send an essential message of political, economic and constitutional stability both inside and outside of Spain.

In order to oust Rajoy and take his place at the head of the government, Sánchez has had to unite very disparate forces that together lack coherence. And by refusing to seek legitimacy via early elections, he is forced to do so by the intelligent exercising of prudent and capable governance, at the helm of a solid government with accredited prestige.


Eamon said...

I would give 50 cents for the candle stick. You are correct, yesterday was the feast of Corpus Christi. In days gone by it was always on a Thursday.

Sierra said...

No wonder it was a poor turn-out, compared to other towns it was a bit pathetic - here's a typical one from Sarria: