Brexit could influence Spanish election amid surge in support for hard-left party

Centre-right Partido Popular paints picture of economic disaster if left-wing Podemos party takes power

Alistair Dawber
Monday 27 June 2016 12:39
Supporters of left-wing Podemos hold sheets reading 'yes' during previous general election on 20 December
Supporters of left-wing Podemos hold sheets reading 'yes' during previous general election on 20 December

Like many in Spain, Laura can’t get a pay rise. Her employer doesn’t think that Laura is undeserving of the extra money, but the business simply can’t afford it.

“With the new political situation everything has stopped. Investors do not answer calls. A disaster,” her employer says. During the meeting, another colleague comes into the office with the company’s figures for October. “And?” asks the boss expectantly. “A disaster,” he says.

Despite the unremittingly bad news all three people are grinning from ear to ear. And why? Because Podemos, the upstart hard left party that emerged as the main beneficiary of last December’s inconclusive general election, is now in power and everyone appears to be happy about the new beginning in this corner of Europe. A new dawn has broken, even if Spain’s fragile economy has gone into free fall.

This, at least, is how the caretaker government, run by the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) would have it. The fictional scene is from the party’s latest campaign video before Sunday’s fresh general election and the message is simple: you might not like the current government, but the country is safer with us than with the populists of the left who say all the right things, but would send the country to ruin.

The Spanish election, of course, takes place in the shadow of last Thursday’s EU referendum debate in the UK, and despite the British public believing it was delivering a poke in the eye of the establishment, the view among analysts is that it could prove to be a boon for Spain’s traditional parties, including the PP.

"The ongoing market turmoil fits well with the campaign message of incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has framed the election as a choice between economic stability and a radical left-wing government potentially led by Podemos and its allies,” says Antonio Barroso, a senior vice president at political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence.

As if on cue, the Ibex 35, Spain’s main share index, was one of the biggest victims of the Brexit vote, falling 12.35 per cent on Friday – its biggest single-day fall ever, highlighting Spain’s financial vulnerability.

Mr Rajoy, the premier since 2011, is determined to hold on to power and has sought to use his party’s economic record as his main election weapon. While unemployment remains stubbornly above 20 per cent, growth has returned and even property prices are cautiously rising.

Brexit - EU leaders in quotes

“I ask the moderates to retake the initiative which the revolutionaries, radicals and anti-system groups have snatched,” the Prime Minister said last week.

If the polls are to be believed, Sunday’s result will show that not enough Spaniards are listening to him.

In a poll by Metroscopia and published by the El Pais newspaper last weekend, Mr Rajoy’s PP led the way on 29 per cent, Podemos was second on 26 per cent, the traditional centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) was on 20.5 per cent, with centrist Ciudadanos down on 14.5 per cent.

If the poll is correct, the PP would again fall short of an overall majority, but the big change would be the seemingly unstoppable rise of Podemos. The party has recently formed an alliance with the hard left Izquierda Unida, establishing Unidos Podemos, and has overhauled the PSOE – the party of government during the economic disaster at the end of the last decade, moving into second place.

The consequences of not winning outright could be profound for Mr Rajoy, who according to 80 per cent of Spaniards surveyed in February, should resign.

Spain’s political leaders have been at pains to suggest that there will not be a third round of voting, meaning that any deal – be it a formal coalition or more likely an informal agreement not to veto legislation – will have winners and losers.

“The most likely scenario is that the PSOE will be an unwilling kingmaker – it will be a case of the party picking its poison,” says Vincenzo Scarpetta a policy analyst at Open Europe.

The PSOE will demand Mr Rajoy’s head if return for propping up an unpopular PP government, while the Prime Minister would almost certainly be forced out by his own party if the PSOE got into bed with Podemos and its 37 year-old radical ponytailed leader, Pablo Iglesias.

“Some say that Pedro Sanchez [the PSOE leader] leans towards the PP, but I’m not so sure,” says Mr Scarpetta. “With Podemos he has the chance to form a leftist government without the PP. Of course, that would mean that Pablo Iglesias would be Prime Minister. Whatever happens the negotiations will not go smoothly.”

It would be a remarkable victory Mr Iglesias and his party, which two and a half years ago was only just emerging from the protest movements against Spain’s harsh austerity programme.

It would also represent another nail in the coffin of the Europe’s established political parties and would see Spain joining both Greece and neighbouring Portugal in selecting anti-austerity administrations.

Time will tell whether Laura and those she purports to highlight in the film will get their pay rises. In the end she may just settle for having a job. After Sunday’s election, it may be more than Spain’s current Prime Minister is able to say.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments