Friday, August 13, 2010

Making A Mess Of Democracy

Madrid will witness an internal primary election in the PSOE this autumn to determine who the candidates will be to take on Esperanza Aguirre and Alberto Ruiz Gallardón in next year's regional and municipal elections. This is a contest which virtually nobody involved wanted to have. The national party was pressing hard for Madrid PSOE leader Tomas Gómez to stand aside in favour of Trinidad Jimenez, currently health minister. Goméz has refused to stand down, even after a private meeting with Zapatero, leaving the primary as virtually the only solution.

The reasons why the national leadership want to displace Gómez as candidate are said to come from (internal) opinion polls that show Jimenez having more chance against Esperanza Aguirre. There is a general feeling, going beyond the confines of the PSOE, that Gómez has been a fairly uninspiring leader since he was appointed as Zapatero's choice to lead the Madrid party. This has not been helped by the fact that he doesn't sit in the Madrid regional assembly, leaving it to others to lead the opposition there to Aguirre. However, by seeking another candidate the national PSOE has opened itself to the charge of yet again treating Madrid as a place where election candidates are shipped in at the last moment. The clumsy attempt to persuade Gómez to stand down was not impressive. There is also the fact that Trinidad Jimenez has been a candidate in Madrid before, and only took around 35% of the vote against Gallardón.

Even with the hints from some polls that Aguirre is vulnerable it still seems unlikely in the current circumstances that the PSOE can think seriously about winning the election. The odd thing has been the reluctance to let the issue go to a primary election, an open contest will do wonders for raising the profile of the eventual winner and it seems hard to believe that voters will punish a party for demonstrating a little internal democracy. Zapatero himself was elected as PSOE leader by the same method. Of course, now that the primary has become inevitable, everyone from Zapatero to Gómez is acting as if it's what they always wanted to happen. Based on what we have seen so far there will be little substance to the debate, Gómez is trying to rely on his influence in the Madrid party machine, whilst Jimenez will present herself as Zapatero's candidate. If there are ideological differences between the two, they are well hidden.

To make things a little bit more interesting, there are rumours circulating that the candidates for the Partido Popular could yet change. These rumours have Aguirre taking the place of Gallardón as mayor of Madrid, whilst the latter would then be free to stand in the national PP lists with the possibility of being a senior figure in a Rajoy led administration. Rajoy would obviously need a deputy to take difficult decisions, given his notorious problems in that department. The logic behind this notion is that Aguirre would be safer in Madrid city which votes more strongly for the right, and Gallardón would be free to realise his ambition to be a national political figure. It may all just be idle speculation, and it is hard to see Aguirre being content with taking over Gallardon's more or less bankrupt administration; especially with her insatiable need for plentiful autobombo funds.

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