People’s opposition to austerity policies being imposed by European Union on Latin European countries continues to reflect in the electoral arena deepening the political crisis in these countries. Recent elections in Spain fourth largest economy of the Eurozone, held on December 20, 2015 have produced a fractured mandate with pro-austerity parties facing reduction in their vote share as well as in the number of seats in the Parliament. Ruling Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) which have been alternating in power for over decades both lost in terms of votes and seats in the new parliament. The elections threw a verdict where formation of a govt. itself is quite difficult. Neither PP nor PSOE are in a position to cobble together a coalition to form the government.
Spain has been one of the south European countries which have been severely affected by the world financial-economic crisis. Though its sovereign debt was not very high at the time of crisis, flight of foreign capital in the wake of the explosion of that crisis in 2008 led to several balance of payment of crisis and undermining of banks. European Union held out a bail out with severe conditions in terms of austerity measures. Though Spain could avoid melt-down like Greece, the burden on the people rose sharply. After a few years of negative growth, economy has turned stagnant. On the other hand the unemployment has soared to 27 percent while youth unemployment is running over 50 percent. As part of austerity measures imposed by the European Union Govt. expenditure was cut down and wages of workers and their social security was slashed. On the other hand tax burden on the people rose sharply. Thus increasing unemployment, lower incomes of the vast laboring masses and higher tax burden meant a clear deterioration in the living conditions of the people.
People of Spain rose in protest. Masses of people gathered in huge numbers in protest against these policies. However the main parties –PP and PSOE supported these policies. With the growth of anti-austerity protests throughout European countries, particularly countries of south Europe, people’s mobilization started getting reflected in the electoral arena. Syriza, a coalition of different forces in Greece, benefited from this mood of the people and could emerge as the main electoral force in Greece over a short period of time on anti-austerity platform. Rapid rise of the strength of Syriza led to formation of Pedemos (we can, Spanish word for what was Obama’s campaign slogan in 2008) and it too gained strength rapidly. After Syriza’s election victory in early 2015, Pedemos held one of the largest rallies in Madrid which attracted over 3 lakh people. During the middle of 215, Pedemos was polled as the most popular party in Spain and was widely accepted as the likely winner if elections were to be held at that time.
However, the political situation in Spain underwent significant change after Syriza leadership’s betrayal of anti-austerity platform on which it had risen and its becoming the new vehicle of imposing austerity by the European Union over Greece. This capitulation by Syriza though not unexpected but undercut support from Pedemos whose programme is even more nebulous and vague. Pedemos like Syriza is trying to ride the people’s anger against austerity policies but has no programme of defying the European Union and be prepared of its consequences. Its ‘left’ rhetoric is devoid of any left programme nor is it prepared for struggle against capitalists whose interests are tied to the European Union. In Greece, however, despite implementation of bailout conditions economy further contracted by 2% while the conditions of the people further deteriorated.
Though surrender by Syriza before the troika of European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank undercut Pedemos support but the anger of the people yet propelled it to prominence. Pedemos polled over one fifth of total votes polled and secured 69 seats in 350 member parliament. Ruling PP was reduced to 123 seats while main opposition PSOE secured 90 seats. Good showing by Pedemos shows on the one hand people’s opposition to austerity policies being pursued by the Govt. of Spain on the one hand, and lack of preparedness to break with the big capital of Europe and America on the other. It shows weakness of the revolutionary left and it also shows the defensive nature of the anger building among the people i.e. to preserve conditions of life prevailing earlier. This development also demonstrates attempts by the ruling class to keep this anger within the confines of the system.
The growing mood against austerity policies was also reflected in replacement of Govt. in Portugal where pro-austerity govt. was replaced by a coalition of parliamentary left parties.
Besides growing anger of the people against worsening conditions of their lives, the deepening crisis has also intensified struggles of people of Catalonia and Basque regions in Spain. In Catalonia region recent local elections led to formation of govt. of the parties supporting separation of Catalonia from Spain. On this question, the main ruling class parties, PP and PSOE, are opposed to independence of Catalonia. Among Catalan parties supporting independence there are sharp differences among them on the economic and social policies. While Catalan parties supporting independence have gained some seats in parliament and may enable PSOE and Pedemos to form a coalition govt., there is a difference among them on the attitude towards Catalan independence. While Pedemos supports holding referendum on the issue, PSOE is opposed to it.
Deepening contradictions in Spain amidst worsening conditions of the people are aggravating political instability in that country. While European powers are straining to keep austerity policies, Spain is a much larger economy that Greece.