It’s been widely seen as a two-horse race between the incumbent Socialists and main opposition Popular Party, but Spain’s parliamentary election on Sunday will likely see a strong showing for the communist-led United Left.
Despite promising the same failed austerity medicine pursued by the Social government over the past 18 months, the right wing Popular Party is heading for a majority in the Spanish Cortes, according to polls. A devastating defeat awaits the Socialists, who took a sharp right turn last year.
However, United Left’s campaign has gained traction as its message chimes with that of the indignados protest movement that exploded onto the streets and town squares of the country last May.
United Left’s alternative centres of growth-led polices led by publicly owned banks and an expansion of Spain’s disproportionately low public employment, financed by taxes on the rich and corporations, plus a radical overhaul of the political system that gives voice to smaller parties and brings decision-making closer to citizens.
Pollsters predict the party gaining some 7%, perhaps even more, of the vote. That’s a jump from its low of 4% about in the last parliamentary elections. In terms of seats this will still amount to no more than 10 in the lower house, but that’s nine more than it currently has.
This week United Left announced a string of personalities from the world of arts and culture had dropped their allegiance to the Socialists, and were swinging openly behind the party. Then 1,500 trade unionists, including from the UGT, which has long historic links with the Spanish Socialists, publically pledged their support.
But for United Left the real key is how many in the indignados movement it can win over with its call to “not to give a blank cheque” to the Popular Party by abstaining or spoiling their votes. This approach, adopted by Spain’s Occupy movement in local elections earlier this year, reflected the view that all the political parties are the same. In practice the “no nos representan” slogan led to the right wing party storming to power in the municipal and regional governments and a seemingly unstoppable momentum for this weekend’s national poll.
The indignados political strategies have moved on a bit since the Spring. For Democracia Real Ya, a network of activists at the centre of the movement, minority and new parties are now seen as acceptable options. Boycotting the two main parties could see each of them losing 5-8% of the vote, some proponents estimate. Another strategy being pursued by elements of the movement is tactical voting – recommending a particular party based on the arithmetic of ousting either one of the two main parties in any given constituency.
The dangers of both strategies are that the vote is dispersed and in the end the effect is a confirmation of the two-party existing system, with in this case the Popular Party the victor.
For United Left, the demand is clear – don’t waste your vote. The voto util is to vote for us.
Certainly replacing the Socialists by the Popular Party will be an own goal for the indignados whose often sketchy demands – including a stop to home repossessions, action over 40+% youth unemployment, protection of health and education services and a more pluralistic political system – were already part of, or have since been largely incorporated into United Left’s programme.
Austerity measures pusued by the Government of Luis José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero have aggravated unemployment – in 1.4 million households no one has a formal job, and a million homeowners are at risk of having their property seized by the bank.
And new figures this week show cuts to public spending had hit growth again, potentially tipping it back into recession, which in turn means deficit targets are going to be missed, and so yet deeper spending cuts to meet them.
Yesterday Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party’s candidate for premier, pledged to make “cuts everywhere”, bar pensions, to meet deficit reduction goals set by EU officials and appealed for understanding from the markets.
To win them over he’s teeing up an economic “shock” plan that includes tax cuts and other measures in favour of business. This could include labour reforms where employers can hire workers at below the the minimum wage, if the employers federation, which has traditionally had the ear of the Popular Party, gets its way.
As in Greece and Italy, the prospect of a new government friendly to business and international banking, is failing to appease the markets. Interest rates on Spanish government bonds have now overtaken Italian heights.
This may be party because investors know austere economic remedies for a country already on the cusp of recession are bound to fail and partly because, as the reappearance of the indignados in the streets this week showed, there is a fear that social unrest will scupper further belt tightening.
For United Left’s Cayo Lara, it’s time to stop pandering to the banqueros, and to “save democracy from the banks.” On Sunday we will see how many people hear that message.