Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Navarra's Loyal Opposition

The worst fears of those hoping for a change in the regional government in Navarra have now been realised. After hovering in the shadows during the futile coalition negotiations of the last two months, the national leadership of the PSOE stepped out into the open last week to make clear they would not support a government between their Navarran section (the PSN) and the Basque nationalists of Nafarroa Bai (NaBai). The PSN’s candidate for the regional presidency, Fernando Puras, has already resigned; after all there is little point in being a candidate if you will not be allowed to form a government when you have the chance. More resignations are possible and there is even talk of splits in the party and a rebellion when it comes to the vote on electing the new president. Because the new president of the region is going to be the same as the old one; Miguel Sanz of the UPN (the Partido Popular in Navarra) looks likely to be elected this weekend by the regional parliament because the PSN is going to abstain and allow the formation of a minority administration.

The PSOE nationally have left little doubt that the reason for the decision was their fear of the PP exploiting the coalition with nationalists to try and win votes elsewhere in the country. Their campaign on the issue would undoubtedly be ugly and hysterical, and the PSOE have decided they don’t want to have that hanging over them 6 months before the general election campaign formally begins. Even if you think the reasons for not reaching an agreement with NaBai are sound, the way in which the issue has been handled is appalling. To engage in weeks of negotiations with a party that you have no intention of forming a government with might work if you have alternatives, but here the only alternative available is to put the PP back into power. PSOE national organiser Jose Blanco was quoted as saying that the agreement with NaBai had gone further than he would have liked. This begs the question of where the hell he has been for the last 2 months. I suspect the PSOE believed that NaBai would not agree to their tough demands on the government program and composition. However, NaBai called their bluff by agreeing to park any nationalist demands, and accepting a tiny presence in the proposed new government. At that point the PSOE pulled the plug very abruptly.

If you take Blanco's position at face value then what he is saying is that the PSOE will never govern in Navarra unless they win an absolute majority of the votes; or perhaps if they can form a majority with Izquierda Unida. Now, we have to assume that this is not really the case, and that they will be willing to form a coalition with NaBai at some point in the future when the national leadership decides it no longer damages them to do so. Otherwise, the PSOE needs a political earthquake in the region to stand any chance of governing; they are currently only the third largest party in votes. In the meantime Prime Minister Zapatero has promised “firm” opposition to the regional government they are helping to power. Presumably, this firm opposition will not include voting against the new administration on any major issue, as that would undo the whole operation by leading to a vote of censure. The PSOE members and supporters in the region are understandably demoralised; “vote for us and we’ll make sure our opponents govern” is not the sort of slogan that gets anyone leaping out of bed and running to the nearest polling station.

The national PSOE leadership veers wildly between some quite astute politics, and some completely incompetent politics. Navarra falls into the latter category, as did Madrid for the municipal elections. They have shown a smart recovery from that one, the whole Madrid party leadership has been smoothly replaced with a fresh new team; the road back to recovery in Navarra looks a bit tougher.

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