Does the Spanish Constitution still work?

By Angharad May

Last week, Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, called for a snap general election, to be held on April 28 2019, just eight months into his term in office. Sánchez’s refusal to discuss a referendum on Catalonian independence led Catalan secessionist MPs to join right-wing parties to reject his budget bill. The right wing parties, Partido Popular and Cuidadanos, have blocked many of the bills put to parliament. Losing the support of Catalan nationalist MPs has now lead Sanchez to call for a snap election.

This is only the second time a government’s budget bill has been rejected since Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, but it will be the third time since December 2015 that Spaniards will have to elect a new national parliament. Catalonia’s secessionist drive has confronted the fundamental arrangements of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which in turn has resulted in the rise of a new nationalism across the Iberian Peninsula.

The feeling that the 1978 Constitution did not fully address constitutional issues in Spain is exacerbating, and this crisis is the latest saga in Catalonia’s epic history. Those who are far-enough removed in time from Franco’s dictatorship are a generation who have no emotive connection to the Constitution. Consequently, some are stepping forward to proclaim that the agreement was unsatisfactory. An attempt from the left to rethink the Constitution is being met by a strong reaction from the right.

In October 2017, the Catalan independence issue escalated when separatist leaders organised an independence referendum that was declared unconstitutional by Spanish courts and the subsequent trial of the 12 separatist Catalan leaders is likely to provoke right-wing parties. Spain’s far-right differs from that of other European countries in that it is decidedly pro-Europe. For example, in Italy, Germany, France and Poland the far-right parties are all eurosceptic.

What might be the result of this upcoming snap election? It is almost certain that Sánchez will need to form a coalition. As stated by Dr. Andrew Dowling from the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University, “no one party will be able to govern Spain alone” due to the country’s five-party-system. Yet it is unclear whether a coalition would work, both in terms of numbers and political will.

Dr. Dowling, who has a particular interest in the political articulation of Catalan nationalism, added: “A coalition of the right and far-right is possible and has not been ruled out by the rightist parties. However, the plural left has a slight advantage in that turnout is likely to be key and voters in the centre and left will be highly mobilised to halt the ascent of the far right.”

With the rise of the far-right, the political landscape in Spain is likely to become increasingly fragmented, and, as Dowling concludes, “it’s a very open election, and the campaign will be very important too.” Arguably, for as long as the Catalan independence issue is dodged and remains irresolute, Spain will continue to be politically volatile and ungovernable.

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