Spain’s Game of Thrones

That was how the British newspaper The Guardian characterized the current gridlock in the Spanish government. In case you haven’t been following every detail of Spanish politics, here is brief summary:

September 27, 2015: Regional elections in Catalonia, which were locally considered to be a referendum on staying in Spain or leaving. The parties in favor of secession won.

December 20, 2015: General elections in Spain. While the two major parties (PP—the conservatives and PSOE—the social democrats) won a majority of seats, neither had sufficient numbers to set up a government. This was due to the rise of several smaller parties, including left-wing Podemos and right-ish Ciudadanos.

Estelada blava.svg
By Huhsunqu - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

January 10, 2016: After bitter wrangling among the various Catalan parties, none of which had a majority of seats, a government was formed here in Catalonia by the secessionist forces. They immediately put a process of secession in motion, which has been declared unconstitutional by the Spanish Supreme Court. Catalonia takes the position that the Spanish Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in Catalonia.

The Present: Spain has been unable to form a government because the various major parties refuse to negotiate, or have terms for negotiation that make getting a majority impossible. One  important issue in the current gridlock is whether to support a referendum for Catalonia, which may be just the beginning of moves by other regions to leave the country.

The Guardian article outlines much of this very well, and you can read what it has to say by clicking on "The Guardian" above. In this post I will list some issues that have been brought to my attention by friends here in Catalonia and through my own observations.

  •  The Guardian article states that this is perfect environment for practicing the art of compromise, but as John Carlin points out in his January 18 article in El Pais (the leading liberal national newspaper in Spain) there is no Spanish word that perfectly translates the English word “compromise.” The word that comes closest is “pactar,” which is “an agreement between two or more parties, who are mutually bound to observe it.” There isn’t a hint of either side making concessions in the process. And none of the political parties in Madrid show any signs of making concessions. The expression “my way or the highway” could have originated in Spain.
  •  Corruption is rampant in both of the two major parties. In fact, there is even an escape route from prosecution that is written into Spanish law. Just this month, the acting president Mariano Rajoy appointed the former mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá to the Permanent Committee of the Senate, which gives her in essence, immunity from prosecution in spite of the fact that she, and many other PP politicians in Valencia, are under investigation for corruption. We have been told that there are as many as 10,000 politicians in Spain who have immunity from prosecution. Rajoy says he sees no signs of corruption anywhere around him.
  • The legacy of over thirty-five years of fascist dictatorship is still very much alive here. To quote from the Wikipedia article on Francisco Franco: “The first decade of Franco's rule following the end of the Civil War in 1939 saw continued oppression and the killing of an undetermined number of political opponents. Estimation is difficult and controversial, but the number of people killed probably lies somewhere between 15,000 and 50,000.” The bodies were buried in unmarked graves, and none of these secret executions were ever prosecuted.


Spanish Falange flag
By Oren neu dag - self-made, an SVG version of image:Bandera FE JONS.png, Public Domain,

  • The former King, Juan Carlos, recently stated in an interview-documentary that he had promised Franco on his death bed to keep Spain together at all costs. This is not likely to set well here in Catalonia, which suffered greatly during the Franco years.

By Iu96 - Own work, CC BY 3.0,


  • It appears to me that Spaniards have a very strange idea of “democracy.” They understand the “rule of the majority” part of democracy, but the head of the party that wins the election appears to think of himself (and his party) as the “dictator” until the next election.

So, while the central government in Madrid is gridlocked and mired in corruption, the Catalan Parliament continues its move toward an independent republic. Interesting times!


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