Will Spain's lost months of politics come to an end?

A woman walks past election posters in southern Spain (file pic) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opinion polls suggest little will change on Sunday, although polls suggest left-wing Podemos may be runner-up

Spaniards appear to have grown used to the idea of not having a government.

As they prepare to go to the polls on Sunday for the second time in six months, only 3% put the need for a new administration among the country's top-priority issues, according to public pollster CIS.

The four main parties failed to reach a deal after December's inconclusive vote and there is little sign that things will change.

For Spaniards, though, a 21% rate of unemployment unsurprisingly remains the main concern.

There are signs that economic confidence is recovering as Spain emerges from the 2008-2013 double-dip recession known here as "la crisis".

First-quarter figures for 2016 show GDP growth of 0.8%, the same as during the second half of last year, mainly thanks to a 0.9% rise in consumer spending.

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Image caption Spain's 'usual suspects', party leaders (from left to right) Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez, Pablo Iglesias and Albert Rivera

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Podemos bangs on doors of power

They may embrace this partial economic recovery but Spain's voters are not crediting the conservative Popular Party (PP), which claims to have brought it about.

The PP, now a caretaker government, saw its support plummet from 45% at the height of the 2011 election to 29% on 20 December 2015.

It was enough to finish first but not to secure majority support. In the subsequent four-month lifetime of modern Spain's shortest parliament, the second-placed Socialists (PSOE) ruled out a grand coalition with the PP while negotiating a deal with the fourth-largest party, Ciudadanos (Citizens).

But repeat elections were inevitable when third-placed anti-austerity party Podemos refused to approve the deal.

Spain in numbers



  • 21% Unemployment

  • 45% Youth unemployment

  • 2.7% Growth in GDP predicted for 2016

Opinion polls suggests little is likely to change on 26 June, although Podemos is now eyeing second place ahead of the Socialists, largely because of a coalition deal with the United Left, an amalgam of communists and other leftists.

In Sunday's Metroscopia poll published by newspaper El Pais, the PP led on 29%, Unidos Podemos had 26%, PSOE 20.5% and Ciudadanos 14.5%.

Who would make deals with whom to form a majority was a big question for the only TV debate this month ahead of the vote.

Belgian record

But while all four leaders were adamant they understood that Spanish patience had worn thin, they gave little away.

So with only a month of negotiating time available before Spain's traditional summer shutdown period in August, the prospect of a lost year in politics looms ever larger.

Belgium's record of 541 days without a renewed government may still be a way off, but the brinkmanship of Spanish politicians could have disastrous consequences.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez did reach a deal with centrist Ciudadanos in February but failed to secure backing in parliament

"It does look like no-one wants to make a deal with anyone," says Pablo Simon, a politics professor at Madrid's Carlos III University. "But I think this is basically down to electoral strategy because all the parties accept that there simply cannot be another election."

Mr Simon argues that decisions are needed to prevent a drop in public investment and to incorporate new spending cuts demanded by the European Commission into the 2016 budget, hurriedly passed by the PP in parliament last autumn.

According to the president of Seopan, which represents Spain's construction industry, the building sector is heading towards a ninth successive year in crisis on the evidence of the first quarter of the year without a government.

"Investment in construction and infrastructure will fall by between 15% and 18% in 2016," Julian Nunez told a conference in Santander last week.

Beyond the delicate economic circumstances, Mr Simon also warns of the dangerous potential for political disaffection if urgently needed reforms to boost employment, improve education and crack down on corruption are not forthcoming.

"If the current blockage continues and the economic situation and inequality worsen, we could reach a point where we find that Spain is not immune to the emergence of the far right," he says, noting that only Spain, Portugal and Ireland have so far been unaffected by the rise of extremist politics among European nations this century.

Deal or no deal?

Image copyright EPA
Image caption PP leader Mariano Rajoy has rejected calls from rival parties to step aside

Popular Party Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said the party with the most seats in Congress should be allowed to govern. His PP will again propose a broad coalition with PSOE and Ciudadanos. But the Socialists are not interested and Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera says Mr Rajoy should step aside first because of the string of PP corruption scandals that emerged while he has been leader.

Socialists Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez risks a shocking reverse if his historical party of the left is surpassed by Podemos. Polls suggest that together, Unidos Podemos and PSOE may scrape a majority or come very close. But Mr Sanchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias have become bitter political enemies after the latter effectively dynamited any chance of an understanding earlier this year by insisting on an independence referendum in Catalonia, anathema to the Socialists. Mr Sanchez may have an unpalatable choice to make: be the junior partner in coalition with Unidos Podemos or allow the PP to stay in power.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is trying to soften his party's hard-left image

Unidos Podemos The left-wing coalition wants an end to austerity politics and a massive investment in public services, as well as a minimum income guarantee for all households. This would be funded by significant tax rises for the rich and for companies. However, Mr Iglesias has hinted that a Catalonia referendum might not be a red line, a shift that would pile pressure on the Socialists to join a coalition.

Ciudadanos The anti-corruption centrist party has signed regional deals with both the PSOE and PP at a regional level, in return for a commitment to greater transparency. And leader Albert Rivera's February deal with Pedro Sanchez was a coup for Ciudadanos. But if the Socialists fade further in the polls, Mr Rivera may feel he is better served pushing for a deal with the PP, without Rajoy at its head.

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