Over eight months, more than 250 days without a government. Two general elections, two failed investiture sessions, four rounds of negotiations with the King…the list goes on but the main result has not budged since the last 20th December. What has changed? Mostly, pressure on political leaders from all angles increases on a daily basis: businessmen, retired politicians and trade unions alike have called for politicians to reach a deal and on the need to form a government. The media have also joined their voices to the calls for a government and have lashed out mainly at PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez and PP’s Mariano Rajoy, calling them “irresponsible” and accusing them of being the cause of the blockage, respectively. Today the FT writes it is time for the deadlock to end.
A lot is definitely at stake at the moment: the economic recovery, Spain’s budget deficit engagement with the EU and our national annual budget all demand a government. Not to mention the existing political challenges, led by the Catalan pro-independence parties. However, as acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is presenting his candidacy before Congress at this very moment, it is worthwhile to consider what citizens may think of it all.
The truth is, the degree of urgency that is being expressed on so many fronts has not reached the general public. Of course, a great majority consider the political situation to be bad or very bad (84.6%) and thought it preferable in July for parties to reach an agreement to form a government over going to elections again (89%) – although El Mundo’s latest survey reveals that only 36% consider it still possible to form a government and to avoid elections.
And yet, despite their disapproval, the lack of government is far from being high up on the list of main concerns for Spanish citizens. Surveys published over the last months reveal that unemployment, corruption and fraud remain the main worries for citizens; politicians, political parties and politics only come in fifth, and the lack of government is far down the line. Over the last 4 months it has been a cause of concern for an average 5.8% of the population (although it has increased to 6.4% in July).
To sum up, the general public definitely frown upon the current state of affairs but don’t find it their biggest concern. In other words, disaffection: a disaffection that translates into a total lack of confidence in politicians. According to the 2014 European Social Survey, Spaniards only give their politicians 1.9 points out of 10 for trust (where 0 is no trust and 10 is full trust). A score that is even lower than in 2011, where despite the economic crisis, confidence in politicians was at 2.7. Clearly economic recovery has not appeased citizens with regards to politicians: on the contrary, there is a feeling that the country is doing better despite politics. As a Spanish newspaper recently put it, there is a big divide between the Spain currently “in office” which is failing miserably at reaching a deal and moving forward to form a government, and the Spain in action which is formed by companies, workers and citizens, and which keeps on working and is leading the country towards recovery, bringing down unemployment levels (in July the unemployment rate decreased proportionately the most since 1997).
What happened to the surge of citizen outrage that crystalized in the creation of the 15-M movement five years ago? What happened to the indignados, to all those people who went out on the streets to participate actively in politics and who did not feel represented by the existing political parties? Although most of the votes of those demonstrators and of many other citizens who were fed up with traditional politics have gone to emerging parties Podemos and Ciudadanos, disaffection has not spared them either. They too have recently been accused of things such as wrongdoing, lack of transparency and of internal democracy. Just as if they were well-established, traditional parties.
How can you combat disaffection? How can you get citizens involved in politics again? Some regions like Madrid are betting on transparency (the city’s local council has approved a lobby register) and on giving citizens a bigger say on local matters: initiatives supported by over 1% of the region’s population will be duly analyzed and considered by the regional government. These initiatives are worthy of praise, but they are somewhat off the mark. It will be hard convincing citizens that their opinions matter when they have sent out a clear message to politicians to form a government and to avoid going to elections, and are being blatantly ignored. PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez has consistently ignored over 50% of his voters, which are in favour of letting PP rule, with his reiterative refusal to abstain in the vote; PP’s Mariano Rajoy has not paid any attention to almost half of his voters (48.5%), who believe forming a government would be easier with a different PP candidate, by refusing to consider the possibility to step aside. And neither of them seem to be hearing what 9 out of 10 Spaniards are saying: get over yourselves and get down to work. Asking citizens for their mandate in the polls for the third time in a year could be pushing it.Author : Elena Ortiz de Solórzano