surinenglish

the euro zone

What's the problem?

On Wednesday, the King of Spain yet again asked Socialist (PSOE) leader and acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez to try and form the country's next government. Sánchez, as leader of the party that took the most votes on November 10th, is now headed for a second bout of investiture votes, in which he is by no means guaranteed to succeed. Given the continued political uncertainty, the changes that Sánchez has suggested making to the 1978 Spanish Constitution may appear entirely reasonable.

The PSOE leader has proposed altering Article 99 of the Constitution, believing that governmental deadlocks would thereby be prevented. Article 99 states that, once nominated by the King, a prospective president must secure an absolute majority in the first investiture vote in congress or, failing that, a simple majority in a repeat vote held no more than 48 hours later. If he or she fails in the second investiture, there are two months for a new candidate to be proposed. And if that also fails to happen, parliament is dissolved and new elections are called.

Sánchez wants to change the Constitution so that the party with the biggest share of the national vote - in this case, his Socialists, who took 28.7% on November 10th, 12 points ahead of the second-placed party, the Conservative PP - automatically gets to form a government, without having to first go through a nerve-wracking investiture process.

Well, why shouldn't the leading party automatically have the first shot at putting together a government (which is always what ends up happening anyway)? Surely that is a democratically earned right for the political group that's first past the post on election day? The investiture process, you could argue, is a convoluted and unnecessary step - one that often triggers a repeat election because the prime ministerial candidate can't secure enough support.

However, if the proposed changes to Article 99 meant that Sánchez's Socialists automatically became the next government, Spain would be ruled by a party lacking either a parliamentary majority or more than 50% of the national vote. To come at it from another angle, imagine that, after November 10th, no investiture votes were necessary because Sánchez had automatically assumed the responsibility of forming the next administration. The PSOE leader would still have had to try and create a coalition with or secure parliamentary votes from other parties to govern. But it was precisely the impossibility of either feat that triggered the last election, which was itself the result of Sánchez's failure in investitures held after the April 28th vote.

Perhaps the real problem lies elsewhere. Might it be Spanish politicians' refusal to recognise the importance of compromise in a fragmented political landscape, rather than Article 99 of the Constitution, that is preventing the formation of a stable government? I think it might.