Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Zapatero At The Second Attempt

As was widely expected, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been elected as Spanish Prime Minister today on the second vote, having failed to get a majority of votes in the Congreso de Diputados on Wednesday. In the second vote he only required more votes in favour than against, and the abstention of several parties meant that he was elected to the post with the sole support of his own party. At least this time he got all of the PSOE votes, one member missed Wednesday’s session because strong winds prevented her from leaving the Canary Islands, which is an original excuse for not turning up to work. The last time a prime minister was elected without a majority of parliament in the early 1980’s, the session was interrupted by armed civil guards and marked the beginning of an attempted coup. Things are a great deal quieter these days.

The PSOE has spent the last week or so attempting to promote the idea that the way the vote has turned out demonstrates that the new government has autonomy of action. They are not tied to any unfavourable deals with parties that give them a guaranteed majority in return for a high political price. That’s one way of looking at it, but in reality this spin is just creating a virtue out of necessity. The main potential allies for the PSOE are the Catalan nationalists of CiU or the Basque nationalists of the PNV. Doing a deal with the former is difficult because it might undermine the current Catalan government, and with the latter there are serious problems over the PNV’s proposal to hold a referendum on sovereignty. Nevertheless, both these parties abstained in the vote today and lots of kind words have been exchanged between them and Zapatero in the debates this week. Running a minority government is tough if you have to negotiate your majority for every single measure you want to pass.

Those who voted against Zapatero are the Partido Popular (PP), the one (ex-PSOE) member of Unión Progreso and Democracia, and Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña. We should get the announcement of the new government this weekend, some rumours say it will be a two year administration with a significant remodelling for the second half of the parliament. There are few signs so far of any significant changes, although Zapatero’s circle has been very discreet and there have been few leaks. So that’s over with, now we have a government we can get back to watching the PP’s internal wars; far more interesting than anything else at the moment.


Tom said...

Obviously the coalitions would leave a bitter taste but at the same time, they'll probably end up making bigger concessions without a coalition. With the guaranteed opposition of the PP on every single piece of legislation, Zapatero isn't going to enjoy this minority government.

Colin said...


You recently wrote about BSE, I think, and about the employment of Spanish vets in the UK in the 90s. I fancied when I read your comments that Private Eye had said something relevant on this subject sometime in the last few years. By huge coincidence, they've returned to the theme in the current issue [p9], where they repeat their comment that "In 1993 farmers had to pay further huge sums for animals to be inspected by a new army of veterinary officials, because this is the way meat inspection has traditionally been carried out on the Continent. Abattoir owners had to shell out up to 65 pounds an hour to watch the new officials, often recruited from Spain and speaking little English, standing around doing not much, on top of having to pay their normal British meat inspectors to do the real work. . . Within a few years, the number of abattoirs still in business collapsed from 1,200 to less than 400, leaving much of the countryside without a slaughterhouse to serve the needs of local farmers." This was under a Tory government, of course. I have no idea of any facts in this field but wondered whether this wasn't a different slant from yours. . .

Erik Wirdheim said...


If Zapatero isn't going to enjoy this term, don't you think that's rather because of the kind of issues he will have to face up to than the parliamentary situation as such?

Personally I have a feeling that people who have grown up with first-past-the-post systems are a lot more negative about minority governments than there are reasons to be. Look at the Swedish social democrats - although they currently don't hold the government and although I am quite happy for that - they have in fact been our "default" government, but almost always in minority.

It takes a bit of turf-hopping, but Zapatero must have learnt that during the last 4 years.

I think that PP will be happy to come to his support, to keep the nationalists out on certain issues, and vice versa, the nationalists will push Zapatero to stay with them.

I'm confident that it'll be an exciting match and, Graeme, I honestly believe that he will last another 4 years.


Graeme said...

Colin, I've copied your comment into the BSE post and I'll reply there.

Tom, I think the thing is that Zapatero has different routes to a majority on different issues. So there will be things that the conservative nationalists may not support but which IU, ERC, BNG may vote for - and vice versa. They even seem to be friends again with Coalición Canaria which will give them 2 extra votes in return for some goodies for the Canaries.

Erik, I more or less agree with you on him lasting, but I don't think the PP will do much to help. For all the talk of them softening their tone and being more open to dialog I just don't see the big differenece yet. A lot depends on all these parties (PP, ERC, IU, PNV) solving one way or another their internal crises.

Tom said...

Erik - I don't doubt that he'll 'stay the course' unless something very unusual happens. I'm simply referring to the fact that the PP has chosen to understand 'Opposition' as meaning 'Total Opposition'. They broke the pact on supporting the government's anti-terrorism policy and there's no real evidence that they've changed.

I do also think that while forging a coalition means definite concessions, at least you know about them when the deal is signed. Temporary alliances for important votes are more risky because you can end up held over a barrel by an apparently much less powerful party. It might not happen, but it's a risk.

Graeme - yes the resolution of internal struggles in the smaller nationalist parties is important. It could well end up shaping what Zapatero can realistically achieve. It could also mean changes in my regional government... I wouldn't be that surprised if we ended up with more changes at the Generalitat before the next election here.

PS - your 'capcha' text verification phrases seem to get more complex each time I comment. Is this an anti-wine initiative?!

Graeme said...

Tom, this blog has never been anti-wine! We don't tolerate that sort of prejudice here.