There are many reasons why one has sleepless nights. It all depends on the individual, and it seems that Pedro Sánchez would be unable to sleep soundly sharing his government with Unidas Podemos. It’s good to finally find out the truth, after all these weeks when the PSOE pretended to be offering Pablo Iglesias’ team an unacceptable coalition deal. Finally, the election is to be repeated on 10 November, following months of failed attempts, all lacking the sufficiently serious effort required to build a consensus which would allow for the stable, left-wing government the electorate asked for in the last election. In spite of the electorate’s preferences, Pedro Sánchez has upped the ante, at the risk of losing his shirt on whether a rerun of the election will succeed against a high degree of voter dissatisfaction and fatigue throughout Spain.
Voter turnout in the 2015 election was 73%, falling to 69% in 2016, suggesting that this time the degree of fatigue may well prompt many voters to stay home, displeased with the feeling of political impotence.
The poor chemistry between the two poker players is only a minor detail in a broader political landscape which is drifting towards the right-of-centre, where the patriotic front prevails, with Podemos bogged down in their own internal contradictions. Caretaker PM Pedro Sánchez speaks openly of his incompatibility with Podemos, Albert Rivera made the PSOE an eleventh-hour offer —so Macron can’t claim Rivera is an obstacle to stability— and Pablo Casado continues to tone down his rhetoric, leaving spokesperson Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo to provide the strident, homogenising soundbites which have even managed to irritate the Basque PP.
Now that Vox is slipping in the opinion polls and the traditional parties are less frightened of the far right’s bogeyman, political interests begin to converge on the centre. While a civil war is breaking out on the left, putting an end to the mood of rapprochement which resulted in the slogan "Not with Rivera" [when PSOE supporters urged Sánchez not to make a pact with Ciudadanos] in April’s election, the right is becoming more consolidated.
The Spanish government which emerges from the snap election or, more specifically, from the subsequent pacts will face some major challenges in the coming years: an internal economic slowdown and pressing structural reforms such as pensions, the trade war and economic fallout from Brexit, as well handling the political crisis in Catalonia.
Sánchez proclaims that he wants a “stable, coherent government which isn’t paralysed by contradictions". However, unless he believes he is able to achieve a highly unlikely absolute majority, his ability to manage contradictions will be key to obtaining the majority needed in the Spanish parliamentary system.
The crucial question is determining the position of the various actors with respect to the upcoming court ruling which, due to its timing, has taken precedence over the economy. The independence issue has taken centre stage in Spain, as it did in Catalonia, meaning the outcome of the trial of the social and political leaders of the independence movement is raising tensions and bringing the two large parties closer together. Meanwhile, Podemos is displaying its inability to argue for a federal alternative and have its proposal of a referendum for Catalonia accepted. The fact that Pablo Iglesias says that he would "unequivocally" support direct rule on Catalonia and that his position in the event of a pact, "supports dialogue with respect for the law and accepts the socialist party’s leadership", while contradicting himself shortly afterward as the result of pressure from his Catalan partners, only serve to demonstrate both his continuing lack of substance and the strength of the wave of Spanish patriotism. Ada Colau sought to correct Iglesias when she reiterated this Saturday that En Comú Podem [as Podemos is known in Catalonia] would refuse to support "any repressive measures in the shape of direct rule". Iglesias has begun to find out how hard it is trying to maintain a subtle approach to the Catalan question in Madrid, if he’s ever truly appreciated the delicate balance of power within the Comuns.
If this were Germany, the importance of the challenge -restructuring an obsolete territorial architecture which is disliked by all- would be addressed by a broad coalition and indeed, it can’t be ruled out that the proximity of the two major Spanish parties may result in them falling into line with the common interest in absorbing the new parties on the right and the left.
Difficult weeks lie ahead for Catalonia and Spain when the court issues its ruling on or around 10 October. Pedro Sánchez has chosen to be the acting Prime Minister during the ensuing crisis brought on by the judicial decision and will try to take advantage of a show of authority by acting as a charismatic leader during the election campaign. This suggests he will adopt an electoral posture rather than acting responsibly. Catalonia’s response to the ruling remains unclear. There will be an institutional response and a response from the public. It remains to be seen how powerful these will be. What remains clear is that that they will continue to exist in the absence of a response to the desire for independence other than contempt.