2011 Spain Election

This blog covered the general election from Madrid in November 2011

SPANISH ELECTION VI – Blue prospects

The Partido Popular has won a huge majority in the 2011 Spanish general election (21/11/11)

It was a record-breaking night. The conservatives have won their biggest ever majority, pounding the ruling Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) in the Spanish lower house by 186 seats to 110, and leaving the centre-left party in their worst ever position. The PP won all but seven of the 50 provinces and increased their majority in the upper house as well, where they now have 136 of the 208 senators.

“I am proud, happy and satisfied. We are facing a decisive time in Spain…but we will be part of the [eurozone crisis] solution, not the problem”

The reaction outside the PP’s headquarters just off Plaza Colón to Mariano Rajoy’s victory words was euphoric. Huge speakers were blasting out something musical for everyone, from Barry White to Frank Sinatra via the latest European club tunes. Hundreds of people crammed in along the street in a strange family-disco atmosphere; infants danced around pushchairs alongside teenagers clutching cans of lager. I was struck by the youthful nature of the crowd, with a large number of children and twenty-somethings showing their proud political colours on a night of joy for the right and desperation for the socialists.

The PSOE central office was a picture of dejection. There was no need for the street to be cordoned off, with about 30 people shuffling around on the pavement. Defeated candidate Arturo Pérez Rubalcaba accepted the result about 90 minutes after polls closed and has said his party will work with the government to try to deal with the economic crisis. According to a communications expert I spoke to, PSOE votes went two ways. Firstly, and unsurprisingly, floating voters plumped for the PP. Secondly, huge numbers of regular socialist supporters went further to the west and voted for the IU (Izquierda Unida, United Left).

Either way, there can be no mistake: the PSOE has been soundly beaten. Mr Rajoy urged his flag-waving supporters to party last night but to be ready for work today. (One wonders if Angela Merkel has put the champagne and beer on her ever-generous continental tab.) Yesterday’s grey drizzle has turned into a bright and warm autumn day but dark times are ahead.

Despite the crushing victory the conservatives have far from convinced the entire country: 312,000 ballot papers were spoiled; 322,000 were left unfilled; and nine million people – a quarter of the nation – did not vote at all. Spaniards will have to work together and be ready to compromise with Europe to confront the rocketing unemployment, rising borrowing costs and budget deficit. A trabajar.

SPANISH ELECTION V – El péndulo oscila

El péndulo oscila (The pendulum swings) (19/11/11)

Today has been the dia de reflexión which traditionally precedes elections. It is a campaign-free day on which to consider your coming democratic decision. So what have Spaniards been thinking about?

The economic situation and high unemployment are the top two items on the list. Arturo Pérez Rubalcaba, the PSOE leader, wants to grow the economy before thinking about imposing any cuts. Mariano Rajoy, his PP counterpart, has not been clear about his economic plans but the undercurrent of gossip is that the conservative austerity axe is coming.

Mr Rajoy must explain how Spain is supposedly going to be different: under the present circumstances pessimism understandably persists. Mr Pérez Rubalcaba likes to point out that Portugal and the UK both recently replaced socialist governments with conservatives who, he says, have only exacerbated their crises with poorly defined and wounding austerity measures. Either waySpaniards have probably had enough of talking about banks, cuts and bailouts and now want some action.

Also on the list to think about tonight is the widely appreciated belief that Spain could have been different. A photographer from Madrid, a Galician man who works in sales for a multi-national company and writer from Barcelona I spoke to today all exemplified the anger and sense of hopelessness amongst the young and the indignado movement.

However much Rajoy believes he can build a better Spain different from the PSOE-governed country he may inherit, many of the people he needs to inspire to help the economy to grow and the jobs to be created are fed up with the two-party pendulum. They have placed some hope in the new party Equo, which advances many of the same ideas and ambitions of the indignado movement. Equo has set its sights on about five seats (no threat to the pendulum) but the age and spread of voters will be of interest. The latest unemployment rate for 16-24 year-olds is shocking: 45.8% of the age group do not have a job.

The PP may be returned to the legislature from the comfort of the regular right and the floating voters of the middle-class. Rajoy must pay attention if the key to Spain’s unknown future, the young, do not vote for him, do not vote at all or vote, for example, for Equo. The fracturing of the youth vote will stop the possibility of a mass change driven by twenty-somethings’ ballot papers. But they are the people with whom the PSOE has started to lose touch. Spain’s new government, whoever it is, must not consider them a lost cause drifting away.

There is, indeed, much for the public to consider this evening. But the Spaniards who must have their thinking caps set tightest on their heads must be the uncertain politician

SPANISH ELECTION IV – Depende, depende

Depende, depende (It depends, it depends) (18/11/11)

It has been pleasantly mild in Madrid today and the same could be said for the campaigns of the two major parties in Spain, the conservative opposition PP (Popular Party) and the socialist party in government, the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). With one full day left until the Spaniards follow their Iberian neighbours the Portuguese and head off to the ballot boxes for a eurozone crisis general election the mood in town seems calm; almost resigned.

This has been an ambulatory run-up to the election. There has been no bloody battle between the parties, just consistent criticism from the sidelines. They have been warming up for a match for months but have yet to take the field. And it seems that Arturo Pérez Rubalcaba (@conRubalcaba), the PSOE’s potential next prime minister, is privately accepting of the defeat. He has spent the whole campaign electioneering without a chosen finance minister and has resorted to psychological electioneering:

“Cuanta más fortaleza tenga el PSOE mejor la democracia española”

(Spanish democracy will be all the better for having a strong PSOE)

That is: do not vote us out of power totally or Spain’s democratic principles will be at risk. Not that PP leader and the probable new presidente del gobierno on Sunday, Mariano Rajoy (@marianorajoy), has been any more clear with his policies. He has infamously replied “depende” (it depends) when the elephant in the room, namely, the economy and austerity measures, has been raised. The leading newspaper El País today stated that Rajoy’s main objective for this campaign has been:

“Llegar hasta las elecciones del domingo sin anunciar una sola medida impopular. Sin molestar a nadie. Disimulando”

(To get to Sunday’s election without announcing a single unpopular policy. Without annoying anyone. Hiding)

Maybe all this sighing and dragging of feet is because both men know that whoever wins on Sunday will have to face a financial nightmare. Perhaps Pérez Rubalcaba has not appointed a finance minister because nobody wants the job. Perhaps Rajoy has been hiding because he himself knows that, if he wins, he will certainly have to announce some unpopular belt-tightening measures.

SPANISH ELECTION III – Lucha roja, ola azul

Lucha roja, ola azul (Red fight, blue wave) (16/11/11)

The people are ready to have their say once more. Portugal and Ireland have already voted but the two most recent electoral changes, in Italy and Greece, were undemocratic appointments of ‘national-unity’, technocratic governments.

PSOE campaign publicity on La Castellana boulevard in Madrid

A detailed poll earlier in the month by the national Centre for Sociological Research predicted the Spanish conservatives winning 190-195 seats, with about 46% of the vote. The party in government, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE), has accused the Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) of triumphalism. The poll forecast 116-121 seats for the PSOE (about 29% of the vote). They and their prime ministerial candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, know they are on the back foot and have chosen the election slogan:

“Pelea por lo que quieres” (Fight for what you want)

But should the PP and their leader, Mariano Rajoy, win, they will face the difficulties of trying to implement untasty austerity measures and any celebration at a possible landslide victory will be tempered pretty quickly by looking at the state of the country they would now head.

One in nine households has nobody working and the October unemployment figures showed 4.3m people out-of-work, the worst results for the months for 15 years. Spain’s borrowing rates are edging towards the Irish and Greek default limit. Speaking to young Madrid residents there was a sense of anxiety over what Mr Rajoy might do to Spain should his party win the 180 seats necessary for an absolute majority on Sunday. One Galician girl told me:

“I don’t like Zapatero [the outgoing PSOE prime minister] but Rajoy scares me”.

It seems that the winner’s hands will be tied for a good while by the constraints of the eurozone crisis. The PP have told us to:

“Súmate al cambio” (Join the change)

PP campaign publicity on La Castellana boulevard in Madrid

but with the single currency’s woes far from over, weak economic growth forecasts and austerity measures on the menu, the return to power for the PP after seven years in opposition will be announced not with champagne, but with strict sips from a poisoned chalice.

SPANISH ELECTION II – “Es necesaria una Revolución Ética”

“Es necesaria una Revolución Ética” (An Ethical Revolution is needed) (31/10/11)

As European leaders inch closer to a deal to shore up the continent’s leaky defences from the tidal waves of debt and deficit smashing against them, anti-capitalist protests have been continuing across the world. The Occupy Wall Street demonstration is the most well known but these public manifestations of anger do not have their roots in Manhattan but in Madrid. Demonstrations against “corrupt politicians, businessmen, bankers…the defencelessness of the ordinary citizen” have been staged in Spain since the spring, when los indignados (the indignant ones, the outraged) first occupied the Puerta del Sol square in the centre of the Spanish capital.

Of all the demonstrators across the world, it is the Spaniards who will be the next to face an election, on 20 November. On a recent visit to Madrid there was a resounding feeling amongst many people I spoke to of the need for a deeper political and societal change, not the simple switching of government from left to right, as looks set to occur in three weeks.

Los indignados are not party-political and they strive for a Spain that does not simply swing back and forth between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and the PP (Popular Party). The former, (the government), is accused of exacerbating the crisis and now reacting with chilling austerity measures; the latter, (the opposition), is viewed as having close ties to the big business and large corporations the protesters see as the spark of a culture of greed and deprivation.

They are both seen as an obstinate political class favouring an “obsolete and unnatural economic model”. They are accused of not paying attention to basic rights and of ensuring the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the protesters want a re-alignment of this ‘broken’ society. The desire to break free from a two-party system will not happen and social modification can take generations to come about but the protesters’ wish for financial change is a more realistic aspiration. However confused their demands may be, the indignados movement has spawned a rolling global protest.

In three weeks’ time the spotlight will roll back over Spain and the indignados movement have ensured that their global call for an “Ethical Revolution” in times of economic crisis cannot be dismissed nonchalantly by complacent politicians.

SPANISH ELECTION I – “En España no hay nada”

“En España no hay nada” (There is nothing in Spain) (10/10/11)

This concise and brutal opinion was how a friend described the employment situation in Spain to me in a trip to the Spanish capital last week. Madrid was buzzing as we sat in a cafe in a busy square between Chueca and Gran Via. It was the last weekend of summer and the warmth of the day carried on into the night. But the rays of sunshine are not lighting the mood among the youth when it comes to job opportunities.

The twenty-something went on to describe to me how, despite having plenty of experience and relevant qualifications in his field to his name, he still found himself banging his head against an immovable job door. There is no easy route to an exit from this crisis.

This weekend, the credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Spanish debt amid the ongoing lack of resolutions over the Mediterranean monetary maelstrom. The lack of an answer to the crisis is mirrored in Spain by the scarcity of employment opportunities. The indignados movement has exemplified the frustration of many Spaniards and their demonstrations will be discussed in the next special Spanish Election post.

Many of the españoles I met had decided to go back into education, after months of trying to use the first degree they completed to get a job. One educational option is to study a specialist subject to try to set yourself apart from the crowds. But Spain needs a boost to the economy, not class numbers. It is a not problem easily solved by more debt-building through enrolling in futher courses.

Spain’s powerhouse construction sector is faltering. The economy is critically injured. Back in the square with my friend, he paused and looked down at the table, pushed his glass to one side and reiterated firmly:

“I am going to apply to French companies now, and to London as well. En España no hay nada.”

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