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Europe

Spain's second round of elections to test party unity

The ability of Spain's main political parties to manage their internal divisions will be the key to benefiting from a second round of elections. Santiago Saez reports from Madrid.

It's not official yet, but nobody believes otherwise: King Felipe VI of Spain will dissolve parliament next Tuesday, May 3, and call new elections. The fresh vote would then be held on June 26.

The general feeling is bewilderment as the country ventures into uncharted waters. "Real politics have overcome the restrictions of a system conceived to favor a stable two-party system," Carlos Santos, author and political journalist, told DW.

This is, indeed, the first time since democracy was reinstated in 1978 that the Spanish parliament has failed to elect a government. For Santos, this could very well be due to a clash between old and new politics: "Parties in clear decadence, burnt by decades of corruption and crisis, are coexisting with very young parties, unstable and full of growing pains. All of them are terrified of new elections. There's a lot to lose and very little to gain."

Antonio Barroso, senior vice-president of political consultant firm, Teneo Intelligence, told DW that there's a clear strategy for each party to make the rest responsible for the hung parliament and to push each other to political extremes. "PSOE pushes Podemos to the left. Podemos pushes PSOE to the right, after the latter dealt with Ciudadanos. PP says Ciudadanos connives with PSOE, and Ciudadanos says that PP is ultraconservative," the London-based analyst said.

Divisions within divisions

Mariano Rajoy

Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Partido Popular, saw himself ousted as prime minister

The three largest parties, Rajoy's conservative Partido Popular (PP), Sanchez' Social Democrats of PSOE and Iglesias' leftist, anti-austerity Podemos, have had their fair share of political crises since the last elections in December.

Keeping the unity of their groups could be instrumental to success in the now seemingly unavoidable June election.

Barroso thinks that keeping order in party ranks will be key to reaping any benefits from the voters. "Except Ciudadanos, which seems to be the only united group, all other major parties are experiencing visible internal struggles," Barroso told DW.

The cracks are more noticeable in the parties of the left. It's no secret that Pedro Sánchez's leadership is contested by the heads of the most traditional federal organizations, particularly by the Andalusian president, Susana Diaz.

PSOE Pedro Sanchez

Pedro Sanchez and his PSOE party are being challenged from the left

Podemos is not much better off. Several of the party's highest ranking members, most aligned with "number 2" Íñigo Errejón, have either resigned or been dismissed in the last month. In addition to that, some of the regional coalitions that led to the anti-austerity group's good results in the December elections are starting to wear off, with the Valencian group, Compromís, officially splitting.

Rajoy's strategy

Meanwhile, Rajoy's conservatives face this election as a second chance. Antonio Barroso thinks that the interim president could reap the largest gains from this situation: "He had a very bad hand already, so if he wins again he could legitimize his leadership."

Rajoy's grip on power is not granted either. There are younger politicians in the PP that take a critical view of what Rajoy represents. "Rajoy's generation is swamped by corruption and overwhelmed by the crisis, and there is a significant discontent with his leadership in the party," explains Carlos Santos.

Fog down the road

The elections, if they are finally held, will only take place two months down the road, but their apparent inevitability has already set off the guessing game. Only this time, nobody's taking chances. "The novelty of the situation makes it really difficult to guess who's going to benefit," says Teneo's Antonio Barroso.

One of the big game changers could be a national coalition between Podemos and the Communist-Green group United Left (Izquierda Unida). The latter only has two seats in parliament, but got nearly 900,000 votes in the December election. An alliance between the two left-wing parties could leave PSOE as the third force, for the first time since since the end of the dictatorship.

The blame game

Finally, parties are holding their breath to see who gets the blame for the failed parliament. The pulse on the street in one of disappointment and boredom.

King Felipe VI with Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias

King Felipe VI, here with Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias, is expected to dissolve parliament

María García, a social network manager, is deeply concerned: "I think that it's a grave situation. I don't expect bizarre alliances, but they have put party interests before serious matters such as employment, marginalized people, health and education. That can have disastrous effects in the medium and long term."

Jesus Gutierrez, a PhD student and employee at a university publishing house, says he doesn't expect much to come out of all this: "We are used to the two largest parties being the only ones moving the political board. Now, with the arrival of Ciudadanos and Podemos, the lack of capacity to reach deals due to internal struggles is obvious, particularly in the PSOE." Gutierrez thinks that the new elections "won't change things."

Analysts agree: "There is a real chance of ending up in the same place we are now," says Carlos Santos, who wouldn't be surprised by "a Belgian-style deadlock for months or years to come."

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