Saturday, 30 May 2015

Victory has many orphans...

A victory of King Phyrrus

It is remarkable, dear reader, how electoral results can be differently perceived by different cultures. Allow me to explain.

Last Sunday 24 May, municipal and provincial elections were held in Spain. The results were not surprising (since they had been pretty adequately predicted) but still represented a thorough shake-up of dusty things.

On a national scale, the governing PP, conservative, pocketed some 27 % of the vote. This was down about 10 % from earlier elections, both general and local, in 2011. The opposition PSOE, socialist, reached some 25 %, about 5 % less than in 2011. Two new upstart parties, scions of the economic crisis and popular indignation over widespread corruption, did not do too badly. The centre-left-yet-often-right-of-centre (yeah, square me that circle!) Cuidadanos party got almost 7 % of the vote nationwide, and the flamboyant, radical left Podemos, in so far as it may be calculated (for politico-philosophical reasons, they did not participate in every town and province), seems to attract anywhere between 10 and 20 %.

How would you read these results (assuming you are not yourself Spanish)? Well: in any northern democracy based on Proportional Representation, this would count as a resounding victory for the PP. Not only the party won the most votes nationwide, but it also ended up as the biggest party in most towns, cities and provinces. Yes, of course they lost a big chunk of the vote compared with previous elections; but their performance is not short of a miracle, considering that the party has been in office for four hard years; that its mayor accomplishment consists in not making the economic situation any worse; that, in order to do so, its government took from the poor to give to the rich; and finally that it is riddled with so many cases of astounding, shameless, mind-boggling corruption from the very highest levels to the lowest, that it might be said to be corrupt up to its bone-marrow.

But how are these results read by Spaniards themselves, on television, in the papers, and in the social media? Well, rather differently, to put it mildly. There is deep depression and near panic in the PP, and jubilant euphoria in all their adversaries, because the reigning party has suffered such a considerable setback. The crux seems to be, that losing Power Absolute, which the PP enjoyed in countless places and still enjoys in the national parliament, and which, apparently, is seen as the only manner of governing efficiently, equals total defeat, a thing of horrible shame, a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Meanwhile, the two new upstart parties tire not of pointing out that Change has now begun and that the old tradition bi-party system of the last 40 years, which divided and alternated power equally between PP and PSOE, has come to a final end. A fresh new rosy-fingered dawn is here to stay and usher in the Millennium…

On the bottom right: sour grapes

Where they get it from frankly beats me. For the above results - in the humble view of Alfred B Mittington - spell neither catastrophe for the PP nor the Glorious Dawning of The Age of Aquarius for our fresh new players in the Spanish political arena.

For starters: it remains to be seen if the unstoppable forward march of the new ‘third way parties’ indeed holds out, or if, in due time, things swing back, the ‘waters return to their riverbed’ as the Spaniards say, and ‘bi-partyism’ re-establishes itself once again. Podemos, for one, typically peaked last December, and Ciudadanos may have done well for a first time contender, but 7 % of the vote is not exactly a landslide…

More importantly still is the fact that Ciudadanos and Podemos did not arrogate to themselves the main part of their vote from the two traditional behemoths, but got their gains mainly from earlier ‘third way’ small groupings. Ciudadanos simply obliterated a party called UPyD, with whom it even tried to merge a few months ago; while Podemos absorbed an immense share of the vote from the old, senior far-left party Izquierda Unida. So much for Crucial Change.

Lastly, there is the little hurdle of Spanish electoral law which – much as I find it impossible to truly fathom – has all the qualities and pitfalls of Britain’s First Past The Post system, heavily favouring the bigger parties and local chauvinistic ones. If in the General Elections of next autumn, the results are numerically comparable to the ones of last Sunday, both new parties will attract a nice share of the vote, but will see their gains reduced to smithereens when it comes to seats in Parliament. This was always the fate of Izquierda Unida, which invariably got loads of votes nationwide, which then translated into a mere handful of seats; while localist and separatist parties, concentrated in a single linguistic and cultural area, got many more seats for far fewer votes (1). Just as in Britain (remember Ukip, the Greens and the SNP), the weight of your vote depends on where you cast it; almost as if different kinds of gravity were at work in different spots of the electoral landscape.

What next? Well, everything is really on hold until the next General Elections this autumn. Due to the splintered results, in all sorts of town halls and most provinces, coalition governments must somehow be welded together. This is no easy thing in Spain, where parties thoroughly dislike and despise one another and ruling by unassailable absolute majority is the greatest political pleasure. In some spots, where various national and local opposition parties have raked in sufficient seats, both traditional big parties may perhaps be kept out of local government. But in many others where either PP or PSOE made a strong enough showing, life is going to be a bitch. For neither Ciudadanos nor Podemos – whose very essence and trademark is the battle again the bi-party system – can for the moment afford to be seen as just another spineless coalition partner helping to power one of the big parties whom they always said they abhorred.

Naturally, Ciudadanos has it easier here than Podemos. The I’m-as-right-wing-as-I’m-left-wing formation can conceivably strike some deals with the PP and some with the PSOE, say something lofty about Governability and putting the Country First, and maintain their immaculate political virginity since they sleep with both opponents. Podemos, however, does not have that option. It can and will never strike a deal with the arch-enemy PP, and so has to reveal itself as the handmaid to the Social Democrats or, alternatively, open itself up to criticism of only wanting total power and not helping out to give citizens good governance. In short: whatever they do, they are doomed.

It will be a true mess over the next six months; but will there be true change? I doubt it. And so good old Alfred B Mittington, who has seen it all over a long long lifetime, predicts that there will be no earthquake at all next November. There will only be a minor landslide of mud.

(1) Essentially this system was designed back in the late 1970s to ensure the support of the Basque and Catalan nationalistic forces for the post-Dictatorship Constitution. As such it made sense at the time. The consequences are, however, somewhat wry. In the 2008 general elections, for instance, Izquierda Unida, with 1,000,000 votes, received 2 seats in the Cortes. The bourgeois-nationalistic Catalan CiU, with 775,000, got 11 seats. The left radical Catalan ERC scored 3 seats on the basis of 300,000 votes. And - top of the pops! – the bourgeois-nationalistic Basque PNV got 6 seats for a mere 303,000 votes, which means three times more MPs for a third of the votes raked in by IU… A factor of 9!


  1. What a pity all this... moreover, I'm afraid you are right. You are always right. Except on baked potatoes of course.

  2. Well, I was right about baked potatoes too… It's just that your wife was righter...