Spain’s Constitutional Crisis: No End In Sight

If Rajoy thought he would be able to begin 2018 on the front foot, returning Spain to ‘normality and calm’ after the Catalan election that he arranged last month, he was very wrong

By Max Graham and cross-posted from Cable Magazine

In Catalan nativity scenes, there is a tradition of including a little porcelain doll in the act of defecation. This is known as el caganer which more or less translates as ‘the shitter’. A modern twist depicts the caganer as a topical public figure – Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is frequently portrayed in this way. One could theoretically combine this with the Spanish phrase “la ha cagado” – using the informal verb for defecating, to mean ‘he’s screwed it up’. In the Rajoy doll, we have an apt metaphor for the outcome of December’s Catalan elections.

If Rajoy thought he would be able to begin 2018 on the front foot, returning Spain to ‘normality and calm’ after the Catalan election that he arranged last month, he was very wrong. Having gone to the polls in record-breaking numbers on 21 December, Catalans voted to restore a pro-independence majority to the Catalan parliament, albeit by a very narrow margin.

The result invites a question which has been asked many times before: what does this outcome mean for the key political actors, both in Catalonia and across Spain? This article will cast an eye over the key players and assess where they go from here.

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The biggest loser after the December election is undoubtedly Mariano Rajoy. Not only did his party lose more than half its parliamentary seats (from 10 to 4), his gamble – calling an election which , he hoped, would see defeat inflicted on Catalonia’s pro-independence parties – backfired spectacularly. It is irrelevant that the nationalists’ majority has been reduced from 9 to 5 seats. Their parliamentary majority remains and thus Rajoy has failed.

He admitted after calling the election that he had no “plan B” for the post-election landscape. Xavier García Albiol, leader of the Catalan PP, supposedly offered his resignation to the Prime Minister in order to absorb blame for the humiliating defeat. Rajoy did not accept this, arguing that it was not an opportune moment for an internal contest, given the “delicate situation” in Catalonia.

The PP’s desperation in encouraging Ciudadanos to try and form a government in the days following the election belies their fear of a nationalist coalition back in power. Rajoy is back to square one, and he knows it. The independence agenda still has considerable traction in the Catalan parliament.

This state of uncertainty relates to his own political position as well as to Spain’s uneasy constitutional position. Rajoy reiterated recently his desire to lead the PP into the next general election, due in 2020 (he has been party leader since 2004). The terrible result for his party in Catalonia has not yet thrown his authority into doubt within the ranks of the PP, but a continued failure to make progress in the constitutional crisis may be enough to precipitate a challenge to Rajoy’s leadership in the future.

It is significant to note that it may not be Rajoy who bears the brunt of the December result at the Catalan polls. Many in his PP party have pointed the finger at the deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, the designated Minister responsible for Catalonia. She may yet be sacrificed as a scapegoat for the election result, having been Rajoy’s right hand woman since 2011.

Regardless, the impression that Rajoy is a worn-out model next to Ciudadanos’ young leader, Albert Rivera, will now be even harder to shake. By any account, the PP is weakened. With no majority in the Spanish Congress, and with no ‘Plan B’, its future – like Spain’s – is uncertain…

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