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Spain: elections mark shift to left
No government majority as Podemos partially recovers
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) reporters
The elections on 20 December registered a fundamental change in the political situation and composition of the parliament. This change has been building, through mass mobilisations and social movements over the past years, and was also reflected in the local elections in May, when "popular unity" candidates won in Barcelona, Madrid and other cities.
The most important aspect of the change reflected in these elections is the breaking of the two-party system, which lost over five million votes between the conservative PP (Popular Party) and ex-social democratic PSOE (Socialist Workers' Party).
The PP lost over 3.6 million votes and its parliamentary majority, while PSOE had its lowest vote since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1978.
However, two new parties erupted into parliament, including the right-wing populist Ciudadanos but especially Podemos - which won over 20% of the vote and will have 69 seats, together with allies, in the parliament. Despite its recent turn towards 'moderation', Podemos stood as an anti-austerity force and was seen as anti-establishment.
The PP, which won 123 seats, still emerged as the biggest party, with a margin of 1.7 million votes over second-placed PSOE. This is despite the strong decline which the PP has suffered during its term in government, due to its savage cuts in health and education, mass long-term unemployment and precarious labour reforms, growing poverty and inequality, etc.
The recent anaemic growth and the fact that unemployment is no longer growing (though new jobs are miserably precarious) may have served to boost the PP's result. However, its overall result was still disastrous.
Ciudadanos made a strong entry to the parliament for a new national party but achieved well below its expectations. It damaged itself by making political blunders - crucially promising to support the formation of a PP government - in the last stages of the campaign.
The most important change in the political situation is of course the entry of Podemos into the national parliament, with over five million votes in its first general election. Skilful performances in TV debates by its leader Pablo Iglesias - as well as the strong intervention of key social movement leaders - all contributed to Podemos's success. In the end, Podemos was only about 340,000 votes behind PSOE.
In Catalonia, the "Podem en Comu" list - supported by Podemos and the United Left and others - was the biggest party, in an historic victory. This comes only three months after the Podemos-backed list had poor results in the Catalan elections.
Podemos was also the leading party in the Basque country, and came second in Galicia and Valencia - both traditional fortresses of the PP - where it also stood in alliance with other left forces.
The results show that Podemos won its best results in lists where a genuine uniting of forces, including the left and workers' organisations, took place.
It underlines what Socialismo Revolucionario has consistently argued: that a united candidature, based on the social movements and all genuine left forces - including the United Left, (which stood as "Popular Unity" and won almost a million votes) - could really have fought to win the elections.
Building such unity now, in a democratic, non-sectarian struggle against austerity, is an urgent need of the hour.
The United Left/Popular Unity (IU-UP) result was also significant. Its campaign was mostly based on a solidly left-wing programme, including the nationalisation of bailed-out banks, renationalisation of the energy companies to end fuel poverty and invest in renewable energy, etc.
In general, the elections showed a shift to the left in society, reflecting the class struggle in the last period. This must now be built on, in struggle against the austerity of whatever new government is formed.
It will probably be weeks before a new government is formed. New elections will be called if no candidate for prime minister wins a vote in parliament. Any minority government will be inherently unstable with less chance of completing its term.
Despite the pressure which PSOE is coming under to support, or at least not oppose, a new PP government even at the cost of losing more support, it is more probable that PSOE will try to form an alternative government. This may involve Podemos and Popular Unity supporting the formation of such a government.
While such a move - aimed at kicking out PP from power - may be correct, it is essential that the left parties retain their independence from such an 'alternative' government and avoid forming a coalition or giving stable political support.
The most important way to get concessions from a minority government - be it PSOE or PP - is in struggle on the streets and in workplaces. New elections could see the real left make even further gains, especially if a genuinely united movement is built. This would allow a real left government to be fought for.
A programme for such a government would start with the cancellation of the anti-worker 'labour reforms' of the PP and PSOE, the reversal of the cuts to the public sector, scrapping of anti-democratic laws, reversal of privatisations and an end to austerity measures.
However, the experience of Syriza in Greece and of some local governments in Spain has shown the limits for a reformist government to act within the capitalist system if it is not willing to take bold socialist measures to break with the capitalist austerity agenda.
Additional measures would be necessary to change the fundamental orientation of the economy - taking it out of the capitalists' hands, through measures such as the nationalisation of the banks under democratic control, and taking the key sectors of the economy into public, democratic ownership.
A left government would also enshrine the right to self-determination of all nations in the Spanish state, and guarantee an immediate, free and legally binding referendum on Catalan independence.