Spain: A Country With No Government

In keeping with the Spanish anarchist tradition.

By Martin Caparros

New York Times


Credit Valero Doval

MADRID — On Jan. 2, 1492, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon — known as the Catholic Monarchs — occupied Granada, completing their conquest of Moorish Spain. Ever since, Spain has always had a government — and occasionally two, when Napoleon invaded in 1808, and during the 1936 to 1939 civil war that split it. But never during those more than five centuries was it ever without any. That is, until Dec. 20 last year, when elections failed to give any party the majority needed to form a government and all attempts at a coalition failed.

For those of us accustomed to more direct suffrage, it is not easy to understand how democratic representation works in Spain. A Spaniard votes for “diputados,” who elect the prime minister. With a parliamentary majority, the winning party proclaims its leader; without a majority, it needs to negotiate. This means that a voter may end up supporting positions he normally never would. Nowadays, for example, voting for the Socialist Party can mean a leftist coalition between the Socialists and Podemos, the anti-establishment party, or a center-right one among the Socialists, the center right Ciudadanos and Partido Popular; a vote for Ciudadanos may yield a right-wing alliance with the P.P. or a centrist one with the Socialists. In the parliamentary system the vote is a blank check But Spanish politicians cannot manage to rule even with that.

Elections had to be repeated; the second attempt, on June 26, ended with very similar results, hence the continuing uncertainty. Negotiations carry on, without much hope. For exactly 253 days Spain has been unable to elect a new government and, as time goes by, more people wonder if it really is that serious.

Obviously, a provisional, “caretaker” government is in place; but it has limitations. For instance, it cannot appoint new ministers. From its original 13-member cabinet, 10 are left: Its minister of development is heading Congress, the minister of health is now a candidate for the local Parliament in the Basque Country, and the minister of industry is busy explaining his Panamanian bank accounts. The caretaker government has no authority to approve next year’s budget, a basic tool for governing that should be in place this October; experts are poring over legal texts in search of a line that suggests authority. The government takes advantage, however, of the (most likely unconstitutional) opinion that acting government ministers are not subjected to parliamentary control. It has been nine months since Parliament enacted any laws: Its members are too busy campaigning and negotiating.


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