By the time that Election Day came, the PSP began to recover some lost ground as the polls reflected that the PSOE was going to annihilate his rivals. Thus, a small peculiarity of the Spanish political system began to take shape as some Socialist voters began to overestimate the chances of his party and thought that nothing would be lost if they went that day to the beach while the disgruntled conservative voter, afraid of having a majority enemy of their hated rival, decided to put aside their differences with Rivera and support the party, attracting to their side a sizeable part of the Liberal voters that were disappointed with their own party and in no mood to have a majority government of any kind (unless it was a Liberal one).
In the end, the Socialist victory was not as big as foretold nor the defeat of the PCP as terrible as feared. The Liberal Party suffered badly, but Mas pointed out at the desertion of the right wing voters of the party, who had flocked the shore the results of Rivera. If it were so, Rivera's support was even shakier than the polls had predicted. Meanwhile, the Basque-Catalan Nationalist coalition had failed to emerge but Junqueras had managed to reduce losses to a minimum while the PNV had won 3 seats thanks to the Conservative and Liberal disaster in the Basque Country.
Even more, the ultra right party EP had failed to even reach the bare minimum of votes to win a representation in the Spanish Cortes, in spite of all the support received during the campaign. The polls, which had predicted that the party would enter with 20 seats in the Spanish Parliament, had proven to be completely wrong. It was then when an idea began to sour in the political debates that followed the elections on the radio and in the TV. Perhaps Rivera had not only been supported by the rightist Liberals, but also by a sizable chunk of ultra-right voters. Thus, Rivera had reasons to smile. Not only he had stood his ground (somehow) but those who had defected to join the EP had got nothing in exchange for their betrayal.
However, Rivera's happiness proved to be short-lived, apparently. What had happened in the Progressive ranks gave rise to a rumour: that Rubalcaba could call for new elections again in six months. Before those six months were past, however, Rubalcaba would have himself good reasons to not to play with fire...
Rubalcaba was supported by the Liberals and the Catalan and Basque nationalists. Many journalists reflected, later on, that the coalition negotiations looked as a bizarre chess game, with the Liberals only willing to support Rubalcaba if they were rewarded with some ministries -Rivera kept them out of the government- while Catalan and Basque politicians were determined not to accept any ministries and Rubalcaba wanted them "in"; however, eventually, he accepted their conditions and a Socialist-Liberal government was created. The Liberals -or, better said, Artur Mas- were desperate to prove that the party could be trusted on the economy, whilst Rubalcaba backed from his promises of getting rid of all the austerity measures and claimed instead that they needed to be loosened a bit; this was the price of having the Liberals in the coalition, which put reducing the deficit on top of all the government's compromises. Mas, determined to be "the brain behind the Socialist muscle", wanted also to "rewrite" his tenure through the coalition government. However, Rubalcaba proved determined not to be ruled by Mas, who was offered no ministry. Mas came close to reject the Socialist offer, but the pressure of his own party forced his hand. The main disagreement between the two partners laid on the issue of cuts. While the Liberals had proposed cuts of 80 billion pesetas over a four year period, Rubalcaba wanted to reduce it to 60 billion.
The anti-austerity wing of the PSOE wanted to keep the minimum wage out of any spending cut and proposed to raise it a .065% at once. Furthermore, they also pressed Rubalcaba to reduce the deficit by raising taxes rather than by cuts in public services. Of course, the right wing of the PSOE and the Liberals were point blank against these proposals. Thus, Rubalcaba and some of his ministers began to realize that, at this pace, the government was not to last until 2015. Then, Rubalcaba began to consider calling for new elections, trying to reduce the weight of the left wing of the party by reducing its representation in the Congress while increasing the center-right faction's one.
However, when the polls suggested that the PSOE would only get increase its seats in 9 while the PCP would lose 16 and the Liberals 17, the prime minister changed his mind about it, even more when the EP appeared to recover from the fiasco of the elections and rise in the polls with 22 seats. This, the advance elections project was quietly shelved, but not as a whole, as in five weeks, Murcia would held their local elections. Apparently, the polls suggested that nothing would change and Murcia would still be ruled by a Conservative-Liberal coalition.
On the left, Rubalcaba with Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the radical wing of the PSOE,
On the right, Rubalcaba with Mas after the end of the coalition negotiations.
Murcia covered the headlines during the following months but, in the end, it changed little. The Conservative Pedro Antonio Sánchez López, who took the leadership of the Murcian wing of the party after his predecessor, Ramón Valcárcel Siso, withdrew from politics in 2014, won the elections while losing around 2% of the voters. The Liberals were even worse: they lost 3% and one seat in the Murcian parliament; the PSOE, even if they rose by 1,1%, were still the third party in Murcia. However, the darkest aftermath of the elections was the presence of the ultra-right party EP, which became the sixth party with 4% of the total vote and 1 seat in the parliament.
Facing the fact that a sizeable part of the voters of Murcia had trusted the ultra-right and thinking of these results extrapolated to the rest of Spain, Rubalcaba moved to his first "tour de force", that is, securing a new round of German loans. In spite of the barrage of vicious criticism that Conservatives and ultra-rightists launched against the move, the Spanish Prime Minister returned from Berlin with a smaller loan than expected but victorious, as he claimed that the German support had not curtailed the sovereignty and independence of Spain.
Another self-imposed task that Rubalcaba put on himself was to form a wide front of "progressive" parties and, even if he had formed a government coalition with the Liberals, he attempted to have a common understanding with the Spanish Green party (and its only member of the Cortes). However, he was blamed by many within the party of either ignoring or not devoting too much attention to the demands of reform put up by the "25-J" (January 25) movement. This created some internal trouble within the PSOE which took Rubalcaba by surprise, as it did not came from the expected direction (that is, Pedro Sánchez), but from a relative unknown group of members of Socialist Youth led Pablo Iglesias Turrión and Miguel Urbán. They issued the convertir la indignación en cambio político ("Moving the counter: converting indignation into political change") manifesto on 14 June 2015, which was considered a deep charge against the "conservative" attitude of Rubalcaba and which, eventually, would led to Iglesias and Urbán leaving the Socialist ranks to create a new party, Podemos ("We can") on July 16, 2015, which vindicated itself as a social-democratic party. Eventually, however, Podemos and Iglesias would move, gradually, further to the Left.
As the Parliamentarian group of the PSOE was not hit by the split and as Iglesias and Urbán were mocked as the "new Largo Caballeros", Rubalcaba remained calm and focused on keeping Sanchez under his thumb and governing Spain. He appeared on television to announce proudly to the country the deficit was to be reduced thanks to the economic growth and consumer spending that Spain was undergoing and announced a big economic package in transport, housing and energy schemes. Included in this package was an ambitious attempt to reduce the privatized motorways, as they were proving to be too expensive for the public purse. Also in this package was a reduction in military spending that caused uproar among the PCP and the EP ranks. However, they were powerless to do anything about it but for their rants in the media.
Rubalcaba, seeing here shaing a joke with Angela Merkel
the German Health Minister, during his German tour.
By early 2012 it was no secret that the coalition government was on the verge of collapse due to the different views of the two partners in several topics, mainly social and economic ones. Thus, it was not surprising either when Rivera presented a vote of no confidence against the government. However, the real surprise came when the Liberal partners and the Catalan"half"-partners of Rubalcaba closed ranks behind the prime minister and berated Rivera for his selfishness. Thus, before even the votation began, Rivera had lost it. Not even the previous debate helped to improve his standing. All in all, it was a waste of time as nearly half of the Conservative's parliamentarian group did not attend the votation or abstain when voting. By the end of the session, Rivera was, politically speaking, a walking corpse. Even then, he would attempt to redress the situation, until he faced a mutiny among his closests supporters and the top ranks of the party in September 2012 and was forced to resign. However, Rivera would return to politics in August 2013 with a new party ("El Centro" - "The Center"), which included former members of the PCP (Juan Carlos Girauta and Toni Cantó). In his first speech after the creation of the party and his election as its first president, Rivera would claim that his party had been created to fill the gap in the "Center-Left" of the Spanish political system. A few days later, he corrected himself and stated that the party was neither "Center-Left" nor "Center-right", but "pure Center".
Meanwhile, Rubalcaba faced another major test with a teacher's strike over the Government's plans to cut teachers pensions, cuts that had been leaked to the press, making true the old statement made by Sir Humphrey Appleby when pointed out that "the Ship of State is the only ship that leaks from the top". The teachers' unions were campaigning to reverse those cuts and this led to the bigger teachers strike since the 1980s. The solutions offered by Ángel Gabilondo, the minister of Education, disappointed the trade unions, so the teacher's strike went on. Rubalcaba was incensed when one of the trade union leaders stated that they were "disappointed with the reaction of the government, as it proves that the PSOE is out of touch from the Spanish society; we would not be surprised by a similar reaction among the Conservatives, but it is really shocking to see a so-called government of the Left acting like that".
When Carles Pugidemont, the most suitable candidate to replace Mas in the Liberal ranks, plainly stated that the government was "missing the point by a long shot", Rubalcaba complained about the "disloyalty" of his partners. However, when workers of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Zaragoza, Bilbao, Valencia and Oviedo joined the strike in support of the demands of the teachers, Rubalcaba was left without arguments. He offered the trade unions to open new talks, but bearing mind that "the government is to give ground, but also the trade unions", By early April, in the third week of strikes, the talks began, Eventually, the government had to give his plans to cut the teacher's pensions in an humiliating defeated that ended with Gabilondo being sacked when he was "promoted" as the leader of the PSOE in Madrid and the presidential candidate of the Community of Madrid. His replacement, Mercedes Cabrera, would begin an ambitious reform program of the Spanish university system to adapt it to the German and British standards. She also attempted to grant the much needed regulatory stability for the Spanish educational system, as well as a stable financing proposal and commitment over a decade. However, this proposal came to nothing due to the crisis of the PCP. When Inés Arrimadas replaced Rivera in the leadership of the Conservatives, her proposals about the reform were completely disregarded due to the weakness of the PCP. Even worse for Arrimadas, all the polls suggested that his parliamentary group would be reduced to less than 30 seats if new elections were called.
With the teachers strike over, the popular unrest remained in place. The reforms of Rubalcaba's cabinet had hardly changed anything and many Spaniards were dead tired of the "austerity measures". Rubalcaba seemed to be more and more disconnected from the developments in the country as he seemed to cling to his hold to power as Pedro Sánchez, from within the PSOE, and Pablo Iglesias, from outside its ranks, launched vicious attacks against his failed reforms. Iglesias went as far as to suggest that Rubalcaba should quit the PSOE and join the PCP, as he "would be, with no doubt, more at ease among the Conservative old guard". To the escalating protests on the streets Rubalcaba reacted by reinforcing the police in the main cities while Abascal demanded to use water cannons and soldiers to put down the strikes and demonstrations. The position of the prime minister was made worse when the minister of the Interior, José Antonio Alonso Suarez, censored Rubalcaba's lack of support of the policemen on the streets. The tense situation led to the newly elected President of the Republic, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, meeting Rubalcaba to ask him to end first the strife among the PSOE and then to end the crisis in Spain. The prime minister threatened to tender his resignation, but Zapatero bluntly told him that he thought about resigning to call for new elections with the hope of taking profit of the troubles of the PCP, he should kept in mind that Sánchez was behind his back and that Iglesias could also harm his chances. Suddenly aware to those news and facing that the PCP's distressing situation may benefit the ultra right EP more than him and he could be weakened by Iglesias' new party and even by Sánchez's criticism, began to think in a small reshuffle of the cabinet, just to be plainly told by Zapatero that it would not be enough. If Rubalcaba wanted to go on and to end his term, he needed to have Sánchez in his government.
With death in his heart, Rubalcaba opened talks with the leader of the radical Socialist faction.
Inés Arrimadas, the leader of the PCP, was shocked when she discovered that
her support within his party was close to non existent.
Just as Rubalcaba attempted to reach an agreement with Sánchez, troubles exploded in North África when Rabat demanded that Ceuta and Melilla were returned to Morocco. This demand baffled many in Spain and many more were angered by this move, that went "against the sovereignty and integrity of Spain. Of course, Rubalcaba simply ruled out even bothering to listen to what Morocco had to say. Then it was believed that Mohammed VI of Morocco had made this move to divert the public opinion attention from the ongoing crisis that was storming through the North of Africa and many thought he was hoping to take advantage of Rubalcaba's troubles to secure some trade concessions or even Spanish funding for the Moroccan industries. If he had expected also to cause some popular uproar in the two cities, he was sorely disappointed. In the end, money flew, indeed, but only to Melilla and Ceuta, which saw their infraestructures boosted by a sudden burst of public works. Meanwhile, the Spanish economy was still in tatters, and it shrunk by 0.1%.
The situation began to become tense. As Pablo Iglesias wrote, "the Spanish economy had ensured in the last twenty years that the profits of the industry remained as high as possible as the workers' wages were frozen. The "austerity" measures had only helped to worsen the situation of those in the bottom half of the wage distribution. Indeed, wages had suffered similarly in most of the rich nations, but this process has been especially sharp in Spain. The international help has been used to rescue banks and not the jobs of the average Spaniard. Right now, the PSOE is a prisoner of the finance sector of the economy, and with the party, the country too ” - email@example.com, May 1st, 2012.
Ironically, not even with the worsening economic situation seemed to bring the PCP back to life. The constant bickering within the Conservative ranks exploded when, in November 2012, fifteen Conservative members of the Cortes led by Antonio Robles and José Domingo, left the party to create a new party called Unión, Progreso y Democracia (Union, Progress and Democracy - UPyD); then, in February 2013, another ten led by Jorge Cañas, also left the PCP. They were to create the short-lived Coalición Democrática (Democratic Coalition - CD). In July 2013, Carina Mejías and three demochristian candidates followed the example set and created the Unión Democrática Popular (Popular Democratic Union - UDP). Then, the following month, as we have already seen, Rivera returned to politics.
With the Conservatives in disarray, Rubalcaba had only to fear Sánchez and Iglesias. While the latter proved impossible to persuade or to buy with a ministry, the former was more ready to listen and to pact, while also less easy to put into line. Sánchez, knowing that Rubalcaba needed him more than he the prime minister, simply accepted those pacts that did not force his hand but rejected those who tied him to Rubalcaba. Thus, by the end of the talks, Rubalcaba still had Iglesias open set against him and a vague promise of loyalty by Sánchez "if he could do it without troubling his conscience". In the end, Rubalcaba had nothing and had weakened his position by showing his weak control over the PSOE. In fact, this lack of authority among the party was to give way to an increasing number of high rank members of the party to begin to thing about replacing Rubalcaba. Ironically, even in Sánchez was the least likely of all the possible candidates, the turn of events would turn him the only suitable Socialist candidate.
Meanwhile, the Liberal party was hit by a hard scandal that rocked the very soul of the party. It all began with the Catalan branch of the PSOE. Two politicians of the PSC, the major of Sabadell, Manuel Bustos, and the vicepresident of the PSC, Daniel Fernández, were arrested by the police after being accused of having taking briberies and of peddliong of political flavours. Then, six months later, in April 2013, three former high rank members of the Liberal Party in Catalonia (Jordi Pujol, Lluís Prenafeta and Macià Alavedra) and two members of the PSC (Luis García Sáez and the former major of Santa Coloma, Bartomeu Muñoz) apparead on the frontlines of the major newspapers of the ocuntry. All in all, they were accuse of offering political favours to several financiers and bussiness if they donated at least 1,000,000 pesetas a year to the party. In addition to this, around 5% of that money ended in the bank accounts of those politicians.
The situation worsened when Prenafeta hinted that it was a common practice in the Catalan Liberal party to have that kind of "donations", even if he later denied having meant that. Both the PSOE and the Liberal he parties quickly moved to contain the damage control, and a new and cohesive legislation was passed on December 19, 2013 forcing the parties to disclose the full details of any gifts of over 50,000 pesetas. Ironically, this was to hit hard the ultraright EP, as Santiago Abascal and his right hand, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, refused to give any details about their bank accounts, something that sounded deeply suspicious after it was discovered Abascal bought a new house worth 200 million pesetas in on of the finest areas of Madrid, in Pinar del Rey. This shadow would return to cast its darkness over Abascal and the EP during the elections of 2015.
The fate of Abascal (Right) and Ortega Smith (left),
who seemed to be rising fast in popularity among the Spanish voters,
suffered an deblace in late 2013
In addition to its previous problems, Abascal found himself fighting against the increasing dissent among the ranks of the party during the last several months, The electoral results, from the general to the local elections, were quite disappointing and Abascal and to struggle to keep the flame alive, in spite of the failure at Murcia. Then came 2013 and with it, the great chance of EP. There were local elections in Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla and León, Valencian Community, La Rioja, Murcia and Navarra. It was the greatest opportunity for EP and Abascal to make themselves a name before the Elections of 2015. To do so, they hid some of their more radical elements and moderated their image.
It was a disaster. While the Liberals won in Valencia, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands and Asturias, the PSOE in Aragón, Madrid, Castilla and León, and the Conservatives in La Rioja and Cantabria -In Navarra won the Unión del Pueblo Navarro (UPN Union of the Navarrese People)-, EP did not reach the required electoral threshold (5%). Their "best" results were in Madrid (37.491 votes and 1.18%) in La Rioja (2,005 votes and 1,22%) and in Castilla-La Mancha (10,866 votes and 0,99%). After this disaster in the local elections, Abascal came under fire from his own ranks. The first to open fire was Javier Ortega Smith, then followed by Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, who not only suggested that Abascal should resigned, but also openly mused about challenging him for the party leadership if its fortunes were not turned around, Then, December came and with it Abascal and Espinosa de los Monteros' refusal to to give any details about their bank accounts.
However, Abascal had a last ace upon his sleeve. In 2014 there were the last local elections before the General ones: in Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia. In spite of its internal turmoil and multiple controversies from women to LGBT rights, EP managed to have a great campaign in Castilla-La Mancha. Even if Extremadura and Castilla La Mancha went for the PSOE and Catalonia for the Nationalists, VOX managed to have an incredible result: they won two seats in Extremadura and two more in Castilla La Mancha. In Catalonia, however, another disaster fell upon the party: 327 votes and 0,01%. However, Abascal had saved his neck. He had four seats in two local parliaments and he was to do the most with them.
Rubalcaba, however, did not spend too much time thinking about the EP's results. He was more concerned with his Liberal rival's success and with the rise of Podemos. Iglesias' party had become the third most voted party in Aragón (14 seats), Asturias (9 seats), Balearic Islands (10 seats) Castilla La Mancha (2 seats), Castilla y León (7 seats), Extremadura (6 seats), La Rioja (4 seats), Madrid (27 seats) and Murcia (6 seats), the fourth in Navarra (7 seats). Canary Islands (7 seats) and Cantabria (4 seats) and the fifth in the Valencian Community (12 seats).
a serious contender for the premiership?
Three weeks prior to the elections, Inés Arrimadas surprised everybody when she reshuffled the direction of the Conservative Progressive Party during the Conservative Convention which took place in Madrid. All of the sudden, all the members of the Conservative "old guard" (Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Dolores de Cospedal, Ignacio Zoido and Luis de Guindos) were removed and replaced by a younger generation of politicians: José Luis Martínez-Almeida, Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Pablo Casado. However, the beginning of the campaign in March was marked by the final breakup in the PSOE: Rubalcaba, who had attempted to turn Sánchez as a kind of protegée, was incensed when he discovered that he had plotted Rubalcaba's downfall. Of course, the two Socialist leaders were not on speaking terms. This quickly became a problem for the campaign, as the two made their own campaign, which were not only different but, sometimes, also contradictory. For instance, while Sánchez promised a more active foreign policy mainly centered in Europe, Rubalcaba kept firm to his policy of letting his foreign minister to run his business, even if it was an open secret that the minister was doing very little but for reacting to any foreign stimulus. The two also differed on future coalition partners. While Rubalcaba wanted to keep the collaboration with the Liberals, Sánchez seemed more inclined towards Podemos (later on he would change his mind quite often on this subject).
Meanwhile, Arrimadas was facing troubles of her own. His popular image was tarnished by the chaos that Rivera had left her and she had not managed to overcome. Then, when she promoted Martínez-Almeida as her future Minister of Interior, Casado began to complain of being sidelined, much to his rage. The conflict of egos within the Liberal party was worsened by Díaz Ayuso "help" to the leader of the party due to her erratic and controversisal style. This led to instances where Arrinmadas would attack Government policy only for having Díaz Ayuso stating the goodness of that policy and how she would make it even better. Eventually, Díaz Ayuso's role in the electoral campaign would be reduced until she vanished from it, being replaced by Martínez-Almeida and Casado.
Abascal and his party were under fire for the so-called "donationgate". The ultra-right leader, however, managed to evade some of the pressure when he hit the nail during the campaign by making immigration a major issue of the campaign. While the PSOE and Podemos to loath the racist arguments of the candidate, Arrimadas was particularly keen to be seen as “listening” to anti-immigration voters (mainly in Andalucia and Murcia, where the number of immigrant workers had been doubled in the last five years) and even offered a set of measures on immigration which she would implement within the 100 first days of her ministry. Ironically, while the extreme speeches of Abascal made him little popular among the most moderate sectors of the Spanish population, Arrimadas ``sensitive" arguments seemed to attract many possible voters. On this issue, Iglesias accused Rubalcaba "of abandoning the issue to Arrimadas" and of being apparently afraid of crossing his possible future partner and allowing Arrimadas to launch racist tirades against the immigrants. Then, Díaz Ayuso suddenly returned to the campaign. In order to keep her "quiet", she became the Conservative candidate for the presidency of the federal state of Castilla-LaMancha. Thus, due to the nomination or to any other reason, Díaz Ayuso returned with a more sober and moderate attitude, she began her tour around the state in Madrid, even if the elections in that state were not to happen until 2018. There she offered a robust defence of immigration and social liberalism, moving away from the racist remarks of Abascal and embracing a moderate position by claiming that immigrants were welcomed in Spain but within a system of quotas that regulated their arrival.
Meanwhile, in those first stages of the electoral campaign, the situation of EP went from bad to worse. The donationgate simply eroded the trust of its voters and when Abascal, Ortega Smith and Espinosa de los Monteros attempted first to place the blame on his rivals (who had declared their incomes and their properties while Abascdal et al hadn't) and then to claim that it was all a conspiracy to tarnish their image, the ultra-right party began to lose steam very fast.
Thus, prior to the first national debate on TV, the polls claimed the following results:
PSOE 38% of the vote
Liberal Party 31% of the vote.
Podemos 22% of the vote.
EP 9% of the vote.
Then, all of the sudden, Alfredo Rubalcaba died on May 10, 2015 (1) from a heart attack.
"Godbye to a men of state"
Meanwhile, 48.6 of the Catalan voters doesn't want
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