Monday, March 09, 2009

ZP And The Art Of Variable Geometry

It sounds almost attractive, doesn't it? Variable geometry is the term used by the spin doctors of Spain's government to describe how they intend to make a minority government last for a full parliament. In reality it's a fancy way of describing a situation where that minority administration has no stable alliances which allow it to survive without problems, instead at each crunch point you make the agreements you need with whoever is prepared to sell their vote.

Now, with the results of the Basque elections giving the PSOE's Basque wing (PSE) the chance of forming a government in that region, we are hearing that variable geometry could also be applied there. The only problem being that this geometry may not be as variable as they would like, and the alliances formed could also have a severe impact on national politics. For the idea to work you have to have a choice of partners, and at the moment the only way it seems the Basque socialist leader Patxi Lopez can form a government is with the "support" of the Partido Popular. The euphoria many PSOE supporters feel after their party's result has to be tempered by the realisation that they may end up depending on another party whose only mission is to get them out of office at national level.

Apart from the PP the only alternative is an agreement with the Basque nationalists of the PNV, who still clearly emerged as the largest party in the election. There lies the problem, the PNV will not willingly play second fiddle to a party that got 80,000 fewer votes than they did. Coming second but with better possibilities of forming a majority than the winner causes almost more problems than it solves. Zapatero's government has survived important votes partially thanks to the PNV, if that support is lost because of what happens in the Basque Country then political life becomes much more unpredictable. Variable geometry states that the national government can still reach an agreement with the Catalan nationalists of Convergencia i Unió, but the principal objective of the latter party is to recover control of the Generalitat in Cataluña from Zapatero's own party.

This complicated scenario has already got some on the right starting to rub their hands as they conjure up the image of the government being forced to call early elections in the midst of the economic maelstrom. On the one hand they see Patxi Lopez depending on them to survive in the Basque Country, whilst of course the main objective at all times for the PP will be to do anything which dislodges the PSOE from power. Zapatero looked at last year's general election results from the Basque Country, decided that the PSOE could win in the regional version, and then as a consequence spurned the possibility of a deeper understanding with that sector of the PNV that was opposed to the Ibarretxe Plan. The two parties went head to head, and if the PSOE now uses PP support to oust the PNV from the Basque government then a dangerous game begins.

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