There aren’t many certainties in the maelstrom of Spanish politics at the moment, but there is one: that the left, for now at least, is a defeated force. A civil war within the PSOE, the traditional Socialist party, resulted in the resignation of its leader Pedro Sanchez a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, radical hard-left newcomer Unidos Podemos is suffering its own identity crisis, and has been unable to capitalise on the surge of anti-establishment feeling that brought it to prominence in last December’s general election.
Perhaps the only other certainty is that the left’s splintering and infighting cannot fail to benefit the traditional Spanish right, represented by the acting Popular Party government. The resignation of Sanchez, who consistently blocked PP leader Mariano Rajoy’s attempts to form the new administration, has suddenly improved the Conservatives’ chances of a second term in power. Rajoy has another opportunity to form a government at the end of this month and, with Sanchez out of the way, he has a better chance of succeeding; but if he fails, the country will head to the polls again in December, for the third time in a year. That possibility, if it materialises, is likely to be disastrous for the PSOE.
So why didn’t Sanchez try harder to form a coalition? The answer is that, whoever he turned to, he would have been left in an impossible position. Team up with the PP in a so-called Grand Coalition and thereby lose grassroots support, or join forces with radical newcomers Unidos Podemos, alienating the party’s more pragmatic centrist members as a result? The PSOE leader’s resignation, unavoidable as it eventually became, has not diffused this dilemma for the Socialists, nor has it helped to resolve the internal conflicts that are tearing the party apart.
The new Spanish left is also experiencing difficulties. Podemos, its media-savvy powerhouse, came from nowhere and swept up 20 per cent of the vote last December. Ten months on, it is experiencing its own internal tensions, with relations between Pablo Iglesias and his number two, Inigo Errejon, apparently strained. Unidos Podemos, as the party became after joining forces with the Spanish Communists in the summer, maintains a hard-left stance that makes deals with any other of the three main parties almost impossible. In the new, fragmented world of Spanish politics, it is unlikely to become a major political force if it is unwilling to make ideological compromises. Despite its popularity, it remains on the fringes of power.
Rajoy must be rather enjoying all this, because the PSOE’s very public disintegration and Unidos Podemos’ more subdued identity crisis boost his chances of a second term in office. As Simon Hunter, editor of the English edition of the leading Spanish daily El Pais, says: ‘All of this is classic Rajoy: he’s Galician, he has that Galician character that he’s famous for. I always imagine him sitting back and smoking a cigar and watching the Socialists implode, watching it play out – and then making his move.’ The way things stand, the veteran Galician has time for a couple more cigars before the time for action comes. And when it does, at the end of the month, it is likely to result in success for the Spanish right.