General elections in Spain: Danger of extreme right wining the vice-presidency of the government

By Viki Lara

On May 28, a major political earthquake shook the Spanish state when local elections were held, in the municipalities and the  Autonomous Communities. The result for the current coalition government between PSOE (social democracy) and Unidas Podemos (electoral coalition between Izquierda Unida and Podemos) was disastrous, with a large loss of councillors and regional parliamentarians from these two formations. PSOE also lost the government of many city councils and Autonomous Communities, including some historically governed by PSOE, such as Extremadura.

Faced with this defeat, Pedro Sánchez (current president of the government, PSOE) decided just the day after the elections to dissolve the Parliament and to call an early general election for 23 July. What was initially considered a “bold” move is proving to be insufficient to be able to continue the current coalition government, self-designated “the most progressive government in the history of Spain” and could end up with a right-wing government, and even worse, with a coalition government between PP, the traditional right-wing party, and the far-right party Vox.

The PP’s latest decisions have left no doubt in this regard. It had already agreed the investiture of the president of the Regional Government of Andalusia (Junta de Andalucía) with Vox in 2018. Although this pact left the extreme right out of the government, the latter managed, in exchange for guaranteeing support for the Andalusian government and its budgets, to set the political agenda on those issues that interested it, for example, the denial of gender violence. This means that in Andalusia, the helpline for victims of gender violence has been eliminated in order to supposedly extend it to victims of “intra-family” violence, with the argument that all types of violence must be dealt with. But this is done in order to minimise or directly deny the special oppression suffered by women and with a term that is not recognised in state legislation nor in international conventions that mention “domestic violence”.

In March 2022 in Castilla y León, PP directly agreed a coalition government with Vox, appointing a vice-president of this party, who has since used his position to propose anti-abortion policies and to deny in a talk to high school students that CO2 is a real pollutant.

After the elections of May28, this drift towards pacts with Vox has extended to more than 140 town councils and for the moment to two new Autonomous Communities: Valencia and Extremadura, as well as another pact in the Balearic Islands, although with Vox outside the government. PP has also granted the presidency of regional courts to Vox representatives who later did not rally with the rest of the political representatives against the murders of women by their partners or ex-partners and against gender-based violence and preferred to hold their own banner against “all violence”.

As if Vox’s status as a party of the far right were not clear enough, as propaganda before the elections they hung a large banner in Madrid in which a hand with a Spanish flag bracelet (since Vox claim to be the true defenders of the “unity of Spain”) threw the flag of Catalan independence into a bin, along with the flag of feminism and the LGTBI movement, among other symbols. Incidentally, this banner was only ordered to be removed because the election campaign had not yet begun, because it seems that no judge in the Spanish state had appreciated any hate crime against oppressed minorities.

The division of the left

Unidas Podemos will not stand under this name in the next general elections, and this is mainly due to the huge loss of votes and credibility of Podemos. In part this is due to the propaganda of the right-wing media, as they themselves have denounced, with a continuous campaign of harassment.

But fundamentally this is due to Podemos’ mistake of entering into a coalition government with PSOE, a party that despite bearing the name “socialist” does not represent the interests of the working class, but are faithful defenders of the interests of the capitalists and big business. PSOE like the right wing, made savage cuts in the rights of the working class, for example with the labour reform approved by Zapatero and other cuts made by his government after the explosion of the crisis in 2008, such as freezing pensions, lowering civil servants’ wages, etc.

The current coalition government has boasted about its economic measures in the face of the economic crises triggered by the COVID 19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In fact, some of these measures have been well received by workers and are undoubtedly positive, although insufficient. Some of these measures are,  a notable rise in the minimum wage during this legislature, the approval of a minimum living income (which however only reaches 20% of poor households according to the latest estimates), revaluation of pensions in line with inflation, changes in the labour reform that favour indefinite contracts, etc.

Despite these “successes”, claimed by the government, and the growth in employment and permanent contracts, there are still many problems to be faced by the working class and the most economically disadvantaged. For example, Unidas Podemos has not managed to control prices in the face of inflation since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, despite the fact that supermarket chains are achieving record profits, nor have they controlled the escalation of rental prices that now affects not only the big cities but also many other areas, especially tourist areas, the labour reform has been described by many as a “little reform” for leaving untouched fundamental points such as the cheapening of dismissals that occurred with the reforms made by PSOE and PP, etc.

It is true that important laws have been passed, such as the “Trans” law, new laws guaranteeing the right to abortion in every Autonomous Community and the “only yes is yes” law.

But the “Trans” law has met with opposition from both trans-exclusionary feminism (even from PSOE ministers) who do not accept that the law recognises gender self-determination, and the “only yes is yes” law, due to the rules of application of the law, always more favourable to the accused in the Spanish state, and with the approval of many judges, has led to the reduction of sentences for many rapists, leading to their release from prison.

On the other hand, another female leadership began to establish itself to the left of the PSOE, that of Yolanda Díaz, Minister of Labour, who has boasted of negotiating with employers and trade unions successive increases in the minimum wage, the law on “riders” (delivery workers) which obliges delivery companies to hire them as salaried workers and not as self-employed and the labour reform. Moreover, instead of the disasters predicted by the right wing and employers’ organisations, because of these changes, employment and, especially, permanent contracts have increased.

Although Pablo Iglesias himself, founder of Podemos and now retired from active political life, proposed Yolanda Díaz as the new leader of the space to the left of the PSOE there have been many tensions between the leaders of Podemos and those who form the  core of Yolanda Díaz’s project, “Sumar” – Unity.

The drama for the left was that any kind of construction of the project from the grassroots by trying to integrate activists from social movements and trade unions was discarded, somainly there have been discussions between different political formations that were previously under the umbrella of Unidas Podemos or that supported the coalition government from outside (including splits from Podemos such as “Más País”).

In this manner, we arrived at the local and regional elections in May of this year with at least two different candidacies to the left of the PSOE in many territories, which led to confusion among the working class and abstention, and to the division of the vote. This in turn led to VOX in many territories becoming the third political force, when the sum of the two candidates to the left of the PSOE would have outvoted Vox.

Sumar

The call for early elections precipitated a pact between Podemos and Yolanda Díaz, although Podemos protested that Irene Montero was left off the list of candidates for parliament. The hasty nature of the pacts and the short electoral deadlines once again ruled out any grassroots process, and this is perhaps what has taken away the strength and enthusiasm of the project, which is now fighting to be the third political force against Vox.

Moreover, many of the measures proposed in its programme are not truly groundbreaking, but rather a continuation of the government’s actions to date, or are similar to those in the programme of Unidas Podemos but to which the PSOE has not committed itself: raising the minimum wage every year above inflation, reducing the working week to 37.5 hours without loss of pay, increasing access to the minimum living income, making a significant investment in public housing for affordable rents, creating a public bank and a public energy company, guaranteeing a basic shopping basket at affordable prices, etc. As a star measure, Sumar proposes a ‘universal inheritance’ for young people of 20,000 euros, which has been criticised on the grounds that there is no limit to the income or wealth of the family to receive it, and that if its aim is for young people to be able to ‘undertake’ or access housing, it would be better to guarantee training and quality employment, or access to affordable housing for young people’s salaries.

Although some of these measures would be welcome, such as those referring to housing, given that the possibility, once again, is that of a coalition government with the PSOE, many of these measures could once again be watered down. And despite this we have seen a scenario during the previous legislature of less mobilisation than during the previous PP government, mainly due to the demobilisation of the majority trade unions, CCOO and UGT, which have not only negotiated, but have clearly supported the government’s  action.

Is a coalition government with the extreme right inevitable?

In general, the shift of the political tops to the right seems clear. Analysing the data from the local and autonomic elections in May, the PP has gained no less than almost 1,900,000 votes since the previous local elections in 2019. But this seems to coincide almost exactly with the votes obtained by the also right-wing party Ciudadanos, which has signed in these elections its almost complete disappearance.

But more worrying is the increase in votes of the far-right Vox, who have doubled their number of votes since the 2019 local elections, reaching 1,600,000 votes.

This would be in comparison with the local elections, but in reality, the polls give them a much lower percentage of votes than in the last general elections, so, if that is confirmed, they would go from the current 52 seats to around 35. The latest polls show a downward trend, probably caused by the hate messages of this party since the last local elections and during the election campaign, causing many voters to move towards the less “radical” PP.

However, the predicted by the polls decline of Vox does not make the threat of a PP-Vox government disappear. PP, according to the average poll of polls elaborated by RTVE (public radio and television), would gain more than 50 seats with respect to 2019 and would reach more than 140, which would give them the government by adding the votes of Vox.

According to the same study, Sumar would lose about five seats compared to the sum of Unidas Podemos and Más País, and would therefore fall far short of its goal of inspiring the left through unity. Moreover, the PSOE’s loss of around 15 seats would make it difficult to repeat the coalition government.

Despite these results, right-wing analysts are daring to predict a victory for the PP “Andalusian style”, that is to say, so comfortable that it would not need a coalition government with Vox, and PP leaders are also beginning to pressure the PSOE with an abstention or partial abstention to keep Vox out of the government, but we have already seen how few scruples it has shown in recent weeks to form governments with Vox in Extremadura, the Balearic Islands and Valencia, to speak of the last autonomous governments formed.

For its part, the left is betting on being able to repeat the coalition government with a greater mobilisation of the working class, the LGTBI movement, the feminist movement, etc., against the dangers of the extreme right. In fact, it is not only the extreme right that threatens our rights, since the PP, besides being the party that has most devastatingly cut public services, benefits and the rights of the working class, has also opposed practically any legislation for the rights of women or LGTBI people, voting against divorce (in this case it was the precursor of the PP), abortion, or gay marriage. Also, during the PP government, the right to abortion for girls between 16 and 18 years old was restricted, restrictions that it will impose again according to its programme.

They must be stopped!

Against this backdrop, it is clear that the right must be stopped, and not only at the ballot box, but we must mobilise to prevent the messages of the right and the extreme right from spreading.

Experience is showing us that any regression in our rights can have serious consequences not only for the exercise of our rights, but also for our own lives. The right to abortion is currently recognised in Spain and the latest laws proposed by Irene Montero aim to extend these rights so that we do not have to change Autonomous Community or go to private healthcare in order to have an abortion. However, we have already seen that the laws are not enough and that we must be vigilant to ensure that sufficient means are put in place, including enough doctors in the public system, to guarantee this right. We have also seen before how the electoral successes and messages of the extreme right have emboldened right-wing thugs who have gone so far as to commit homophobic murders such as that of Samuel in 2021. There have also been recent suicides of trans teenagers.

Furthermore, we need to continue fighting for a life worth living for all, with wages, working conditions, pensions, access to decent housing for all, with quality public services and affordable prices for basic goods. These measures must be decisive and courageous, without fear of market reactions, denouncing and taking the profits of big business to put them at the service of society as a whole.

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