Rajoy’s Left-Right Narrative Could Crush Socialists

Mariano Rajoy hopes to win back power by framing the election as a choice between himself and the far left.

Spain’s ruling conservatives appear to have decided that the way to win back their majority in June is to lure right-wing voters away from the liberal Ciudadanos, who won forty out of 350 seats in the last election.

A campaign video released this week contrasts “the hope of moderate Spain” with the emergence of “an extremist alternative” that, according to People’s Party leader and caretaker prime minister Mariano Rajoy, would threaten the nation’s economy and its very unity.

The “extremist alternative” refers to the anti-establishment movement Podemos, which recently entered into a pact with the communist-led United Left. It rejects austerity in favor of stimulus and a redistribution of wealth, to be financed by higher taxes and the nationalization of industries.

The parties also support an independence referendum in Catalonia, something Rajoy has blocked since he came to power in 2011.

Polls suggest that the combined far left could push the mainstream Socialists into third place — and the conservatives hope that prospect will put a scare in centrist voters.

“Two poles”

Podemos is only too willing to play along and frame the election as a choice between the austerity and corruption of the old right and its own, supposedly new brand of politics.

“There are basically two poles,” Íñigo Errejón, the party’s deputy leader, said: “The People’s Party pole, for nothing to change at all, and the pole of Podemos, for the transformation of politics in favor of the majority.”

Few surveys give the Podemos-communist alliance more than 25 percent of the vote. But that’s more than the Socialists, who are around 20 percent.

Rajoy’s conservatives are still projected to win the most seats with 30 percent support. The Ciudadanos hover around 15 percent.

The electoral system is skewed in favor of rural districts, which usually gives the two biggest parties a bonus.

In the last election — which left neither the center-right nor the center-left with an absolute majority for the first time since democracy was restored — Rajoy’s People’s Party won 28 percent of the votes but 35 percent of the seats; the Socialists won 22 percent of the votes and 25 percent of the seats.

Neither was able to form a coalition government, necessitating the snap elections next month.

Coalition options

Rajoy’s first goal is a coalition with the Ciudadanos. The two share a pro-market outlook and could probably continue Rajoy’s program of labor market reform and fiscal consolidation.

The Ciudadanos may be willing to work with the conservatives. But they’re not willing to work with Rajoy. They demand his head for their support.

Assuming Rajoy doesn’t sacrifice himself, his other option is a grand coalition with the Socialists. The latter spurned him after the last election to attempt a center-left coalition with the Ciudadanos themselves. This failed when Podemos made common cause with the right to deny the other two a majority.

If the Socialists are pushed into third place, they may have little choice this time. The alternative would be submitting themselves to a Podemos-led coalition. The majority of their voters may support a deal with the far left; the party is largely opposed to it, fearful of the consequences for Spain’s international reputation and their own with centrist voters.