On 24 May, the Spanish National Court finally ruled on the Gürtel corruption scandal. The verdict condemned the former treasurer of the ruling Popular Party (PP) and other high-ranking members for an illegal ‘kickbacks-for-contracts’ scheme, and also determined the party as a whole had benefited from corruption. The Socialist Party (PSOE) responded by filing a no-confidence motion, which will be discussed on 31 May and 1 June and could bring the government down after seven years in power.
The verdict on the Gürtel case was widely expected and is one of many corruption scandals affecting the PP. Still, the court ruling means that Spain is currently led by a party that has been condemned for corruption and was described by the police anti-corruption unit (UDEF) as acting as a “criminal organisation”. Over 800 high-ranking officials at all levels of the party have been indicted for corruption.
The leader of PSOE, Pedro Sanchez, filed the motion of no-confidence in parliament, which requires a majority backing (176 MPs) to bring down the Rajoy government. Sanchez came to power in the PSOE over a year ago on the basis of a promise to file a motion of no-confidence against the PP. As soon as he was elected he forgot his promise ever since he has loyally supported the PP on the repression of Catalan political rights, the issue that has dominated the parliamentary agenda.
The PP government emerged severely weakened from the 2016 election and has ruled on the basis of the support from the ‘extreme liberal’ party Ciudadanos (Cs). Last week, it could only get its budget passed by adding the votes of Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) to those of Cs. The initial impact of the motion of no-confidence was to put both the PNV and Cs in a difficult position. They had just supported the budget of a corrupt party, but it would be difficult to justify voting against the motion of no-confidence.
From the point of view of Cs this could not have come at a worse moment. In the last few months there has been a clear shift amongst important sections of the ruling class, which are now abandoning the PP and throwing their weight behind Cs as the party best placed to carry out the policies Spanish capitalism requires. Cs has benefited from the wave of Spanish chauvinism arising out of the Catalan crisis and has the advantage of being as-yet-untarnished by public office. In many recent opinion polls Cs has overtaken PP and it was preparing to increase its advantage in the regional and municipal elections next year.
The PSOE coming to power through a motion of no-confidence is the last thing it needs. In order not to appear as defending a corruption-tainted government, Cs asked Rajoy to call early elections instead. If he refuses, then Cs would propose its own motion of no-confidence, but rather than form its own government, it would use it to move quickly towards early elections. This subterfuge does not even have any basis in parliamentary procedure. Rajoy cannot call early elections once the motion of no-confidence has been filed and Cs does not have enough MPs to file its own.
Perilous waters for Pedro Sanchez
Sanchez on the other hand is navigating perilous waters. For his motion to pass he needs the vote of Podemos, which has already pledged its support. Additionally, it would have to get the support of the Catalan and Basque nationalists (ERC, PDECAT and PNV, EH Bildu). This has already been used by the PP in a hysterical campaign accusing Sanchez of “making deals with the separatists who want the break-up of Spain”.
Still, for such an array of forces to get a majority, the votes of PNV are required. Last week, the PNV reached a deal with the PP in exchange for voting through the budget. That was already a hard pill to swallow for the PNV, because it took place at a time when the PP was blocking the formation of a new government in Catalonia by vetoing several of its members who are in jail or in exile. In exchange, the PNV received investments in the Basque Country. At this time, the PNV is not interested in early elections as its deal with the PP might damage it in the polls. It has demanded from the PSOE that it should govern on the basis of the existing PP budget.
Meanwhile, the Catalan nationalists of ERC and PDECAT seem inclined to vote for the PSOE motion of no-confidence with the aim of getting rid of the PP. The PNV has indicated that it will vote for the motion but only if the Catalans do. The left-wing Basque independence party EH Bildu has already said that while “Sanchez is not part of the solution” they would under no circumstances prop up a PP government.
Unidos Podemos (the coalition between Podemos and IU) has said it will support the motion and has offered to back a PSOE government with a “social agenda”. Furthermore, Pablo Iglesias has indicated that if the motion from PSOE were to fail, he would present his own, with a “neutral” candidate. in order to then move towards calling early elections (something even Cs would find difficult to reject).
In the next two days we will see all sorts of negotiations and horse trading behind the scenes. The PP will try to stay in power at all costs, as in early elections it would be severely hit. There is even talk of Rajoy stepping down in favour of his deputy, thus throwing a spanner in the works of PSOE’s no-confidence motion. However, it is highly unlikely this government will survive. The PSOE will try to please everyone, offering to let the PNV keep the deal they got from the budget, try to put Cs in an impossible situation, etc. The PNV will try to put a price to its vote. In this context of parliamentary quid pro quo, Unidos Podemos has very little chance of gaining any real concessions from the PSOE. What the ruling class wants is the least amount of disruption to the normal functioning of a government willing to implements its programme. So far the PP has played this role, but once it is clear that it has become a spent force the ruling class will have no qualms about using a replacement, be that in the form of the Cs or PSOE, or a combination of both.
No illusions in PSOE
The coming to power of a PSOE government, whether as an interim arrangement leading to early elections or a longer set up exhausting the current parliament (2020), in itself would not mean a fundamental change in policies. The PSOE leadership is part of the 1978 regime and has shown it in all crucial junctures in the last 40 years. In the recent past it agreed with the PP’s reform of the constitution, enshrining fiscal austerity in article 135 (as the troika requested) and has fully backed the assault on Catalan democratic rights.
A PSOE government could come to power through this motion of no-confidence with the backing of the left and Catalan and Basque nationalists, only to implement right-wing policies with the backing of PP and Cs on a case by case basis.
The likely removal of the PP from office however, will lift a heavy weight on the minds of millions of working people in Spain. The idea that this right-wing, corrupt party had carried out a policy of cuts for so many years and been involved in so many scandals and yet remained in power had the effect of breeding pessimism.
A PSOE government would immediately be under pressure to make concessions on several fronts, first of all to the pensioners movement, which has taken the streets in recent months. For this reason, a mass mobilisation would be required outside parliament. Rather than allowing everything to be decided behind closed doors, Podemos and United Left should be calling mass demonstrations outside the building, so that the removal of the PP is won not only by parliamentary arithmetic but also by the pressure of the masses.
Kick out the PP, in parliament and the streets!
As the Spanish comrades of Lucha de Clases have said:
“We must kick this government out, in parliament and in the streets.”
All conditions exist for such a movement. There is growing discontent over a growing assault on democratic rights and freedom of expression. We have witnessed the movement of the pensioners and the huge mobilisation of women in the 8 March feminist strike and against the reactionary male chauvinist justice system. The first months of 2018 have been marked by the beginning of a recovery of the mass protest movement, after a period in which all attention had concentrated on the electoral plane. Unfortunately the leaders of Podemos and United Left have not been up to the task of providing all these separate movements with a common channel of expression.