Honeymoon over for Spain's socialists as rivals seize on scandals
Spain Honeymoon over for Spain's socialists as rivals seize on scandals
Tensions running high five months after PSOE kicked Mariano Rajoy out of power
Tuesday afternoon found the Spanish prime minister, Pedro SÃ¡nchez, in the senate, reflecting on what could charitably be termed his opponentsâ antipathy towards his socialist PSOE government.
âI know you think Iâm a dangerous, extreme leftwinger whoâs trying to break Spain apart,â he told t he spokesman for the conservative Peopleâs party (PP). âI know that everything I do, and everything my government does, is illegal, immoral and even fattening.â
The ironic outburst came in reply to a question about what his administration had done to fix Spanish democracy since using public anger and a motion of no-confidence to kick the PP out of power at the end of May.
But he could have used it again the following day when the new PP leader, Pablo Casado, accused him of yielding to the Catalan independence movement by enlisting the backing of nationalist parties in the no-confidence vote.
âYou are participating in, and responsible for, the coup dâÃ©tat thatâs being carried out in Spain,â said Casado.
The accusation, which stirred memories of the failed coup against Spainâs young democracy in 1981, was inflammatory but not wholly surprising. Almost five months after SÃ¡nchez entered the Moncloa palace, political temperatures are running very high and the PSOEâs honeymoon â" such as it was â" is well and truly over.
SÃ¡nchez tabled the no-confidence motion promising to âdo away with this corruption thriller into which the Peopleâs party has plunged our politicsâ and to focus on what mattered to Spaniards.
Its success put an end to Mariano Rajoyâs scandal-ridden tenure as prime minister and had the added benefit of utterly wrong-footing the centre-right Citizens party, which had been leading the polls.
Since then, however, SÃ¡nchezâs government has been plagued by its own scandals. The first majority-female cabinet since Spainâs return to democracy â" 11 women and seven men â" has been hit by two resignations. The journalist and writer MÃ xim Huerta quit as culture minister a week after he was appointed, after reports he had avoided paying taxes while working on TV a decade ago.
Last month the health minister, Carmen MontÃ³n, resigned after becoming the latest senior poli tician to find her educational qualifications under scrutiny.
SÃ¡nchezâs own academic credentials have been queried, and he went as far as publishing his doctoral thesis online to put an end to allegations of plagiarism.
Another three cabinet members â" the justice minister, Dolores Delgado, the science minister, Pedro Duque, and the foreign minister, Josep Borrell â" have also faced scrutiny from the media and other parties.
The PSOEâs critics and opponents have seized on such cases in an attempt to inflict further damage on SÃ¡nchezâs minority government. The party has only 84 of the 350 seats in the congress of deputies.
In recent weeks the government has pressed ahead with the sale of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia â" despite concerns over the use of such weapons in the war in Yemen â" and it has stood by defence sales to the kingdom even after what it called the âterrible murderâ of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And yet for all that, not to mention the personal criticism of SÃ¡nchez â" too PR-savvy (in marked contrast to his awkward predecessor), too fond of flights on the prime ministerial plane â" there have been bold moves from one of Europeâs few remaining centre-left governments.
The decision to welcome the 630 people rescued by the NGO ship Aquarius may have been used against the government as immigration surged, but it won plaudits around the world.
SÃ¡nchez has committed his government to exhuming General Francoâs remains from his tomb in the Valley of the Fallen in an attempt to help Spain comes to terms with the enduring effects of the dictatorship, and he has signed a deal to bring about a 22% rise in the minimum wage.
It remains to be seen, though, whether Franco will yet end up reinterred in Madridâs cathedral and whether the PSOE will get its 2019 budget passed.
The Catalan independence crisis, which dominated Rajoyâs final months in office along wit h the corruption scandals, has calmed down for the time being, although the lowering of tensions probably has more to do with the paralysis and fractures among the separatists than SÃ¡nchezâs measured and conciliatory approach.
SÃ¡nchez has backtracked on promises to hold early elections after the no-confidence vote, saying he wants to see out the legislature, which ends in 2020.
Recent polls tell an intriguing story. With the PP and Citizens party in open competition and swinging further to the right after the emergence of the tiny, extreme-right Vox party, the socialists would still win the most votes were an election held tomorrow.
A survey last week by the polling firm Metroscopia showed the PSOE taking 25.2% of the vote, the PP 22.6%, Citizens 19.2% and the far-left, anti-austerity Unidos Podemos 17.7%.
Another poll, released on Thursday by Spainâs Centre for Sociological Research, put the PSOE even further ahead, on 31.6%. The Citizens party was in second place on 21%, leapfrogging the PP on 18.2%, while Unidos Podemos was on 17.3%.
âYou need to remember that before the vote of no confidence, the PSOE wasnât even second in the polls, it was third,â said JosÃ© Pablo FerrÃ¡ndiz, Metroscopiaâs chief researcher.
âBut in the run-up to the motion of no confidence, there was a sense â" even among PP voters â" that a change was needed, and there was a drive to remove Mariano Rajoy from office. What the motion did was allow the PSOE to portray itself as the biggest political force because its leader was seen as the person who had managed to get rid of Rajoy.
âItâs about that sense of relief â" and about the divisions suddenly erupting on the right.âTopics
- Pedro SÃ¡nchez
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