Contributed by Joe Montero
Over the past two weeks Spain’s socialist Party (Socialist Workers Party of Spain or PSOE) has been tearing itself apart, with the escalation of an internal war that has been going on for months.
According to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, this is the “the most important crisis since the end of the civil war in the most important Spanish party of the past century”. The catalyst for the outbreak of internal hostilities was, the disastrous performance in regional elections on the prior week in both the Basque country and Galicia, where independence movements are strong.
On 1 October, the party leadership forced the resignation of leader Pablo Sanchez. In the leader up half of the National Executive had resigned two days earlier and at a quickly convened meeting of the Federal Committee they just got the numbers.
Sanchez had come into the leadership shortly before last June’s national election as the new face that represented leaning of past mistakes and taking on the mantle of a reformed party that had listened and changed its ways, that it was no longer part of the corrupt political system. As a result, the Socialist Party was able to halt the rapid decline in its support and hold the line against the encroachment of Podemos, the new anti-austerity party.
Then the September regional election in the Basque country and Galicia changed everything. , the socialist party’s vote halved in the Basque country to 11.9 percent, where the Basque Nationalist Party got 37 percent, the left independence party Bildu got 18 percent and Podemos (which also supports the right to autonomy in the Basque country) 14 Percent. It did badly in Galicia as well.
Consequently, internal enemies blamed Sanchez, although the truth is that the socialists, combined with the spectacle of internal fighting, are still not trusted. In addition they are opposed to the national aspirations of the two regions.
For the anti-Sanchez forces, the main thing has always been the preservation of the two-party system. It is no coincidence that it is from amongst the politicians and leadership machine that the drive against Sanchez comes. For them there is the added fear that a third election in one year will not be good for them.
Most of the big media has been all the way against Sanchez, who has been openly branded as a fool, and championed his opponents.
They media also targeted Unidos Podemos (an alliance between Podemos and the United Left) as the real enemy, rather than the conservative Popular Part of Mariano Rahoy. Podemos has upset the two-party system. Sanchez’ effort to talk to Podemos and try to form some sort of alliance them for a new government cemented moves for his ouster.
As soon as the new caretaker leader (Javier Fernández, President of the northern region of Asturias) took office, he announced that the Socialist Party would no longer stand in the way of Rahoy’s forming of the next government. But action on this will have to wait till a further process of electing a new leader this month has been completed.
The ousting of Sanchez has deepened internal crisis. Rank and file members largely back Sanchez. Many Spaniards may well come to see that the Socialist Party has shown its real colours, as an appendage to the Popular Party and a prop of a corrupt political system, lifting the image of two parties behaving as pigs together in the trough. while the Popular Party is recognised as the natural party of big business. The Socialist Party is much more vulnerable to being painted with the same brush. It will hurt them.
If Sanchez cannot make a comeback, the situation may provide Podemos with a new opportunity to further carve into Socialist Party territory. Its past successes have already been largely conditioned by a shift in the Socialist Party heartland towards them.The process could accelerate. If the dissatisfaction of the ranks is strong enough to fuel a new major exodus, it could be that Unidos Podemos will finally eclipse the Socialist Party.
Another problem for the anti-Sanchez forces is that Mariano Rahoy and the Popular Party may well decide still to go to a third election, seeing this as an opportunity to transform from itself operating as a minority government, to one with a workable majority. This is quite likely according to more than a few commentators. In this event, the Socialist Party will have to contend with the reputation of being the main prop of a corrupt political system. It may not be able to recover from this.
Meanwhile, within Unidos Podemos, the section around leader Pablo Iglesia’s has won the internal debate over whether the way forward is to turn towards policies that are closer to the Socialist Party as favoured by the group led by Íñigo Errejón (“to win over the middle ground”), or present a clear alternative. The focus is now on overcoming the need to build stronger grass-roots organisation. They are keeping fairly quiet on the Socialist Party crisis.