THE BLOG
09/24/2016 10:09 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2017

Republican Crises On Both Sides Of The Atlantic

It was Thursday, August 30. On one side of the Atlantic, Dilma Rousseff defended herself against the Brazilian Senate and its set idea of punishing her with a final impeachment. On the other side, in Madrid, Mariano Rajoy was trying, for the second time this year, to win investiture against a majority in Congress determined to prevent this after the last election was held again.

Two relevant western democracies, both young, with less than 40 years of experience. In Brazil, after democracy was established and the first direct presidential election was held after the dictatorship in 1989, four presidents have been elected. Two have completed their terms (Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva) and the other two have been impeached under different circumstances (Fernando Collor and Dilma Rousseff). In Spain, an unprecedented situation is taking place after the second failed attempt to appoint a Head of State within its parliamentary system. After all the agreements failed to win plurality in Congress, this country is about to reach a full year without a government.

The obvious differences between these two cases create a certain irony. All the principles supported by Spain's Popular Party (PP), which has held power since 2012, its liberal doctrine and its appeal to the conservative actors of society, nourish that which those who brought Dilma Rousseff down in 2016 most desire. On the other hand, the arguments arising from the experience of Workers' Party (PT) in the Brazilian government, especially those examples left by Lula da Silva's government regarding international politics, represent the ideal expectations of most Spanish voters who have remained fearful ever since their middle-class status became the main target of socioeconomic crises. In short, both societies are divided and disappointed facing the endless cases of corruption eroding their respective governments.

A renewed sense of optimism among citizens has mainly appeared in big cities in Spain, but is yet to spread nationwide. Barcelona and Madrid were key when the time came to question a bipartisan political system turned into symbiotic convenience. The current scenario, with four political parties vying to win the last election, shows that, from the center to the left, there are two parties (PSOE and Unidos Podemos) hoping to win the presidency and the leadership of progressive sectors. From the center to the right, the other two parties (PP and Ciudadanos) divide the electorate despite the fact that PP shows a certain will to win while Ciudadanos, in their deep electoral strategy, seems hesitant to compete for the liberal right-wing majority. This is quite peculiar considering the popular feelings of suspicions raised by the left and the certainty of corruption on the part of the PP, which precisely could make this party, Ciudadanos, the most rational choice since it is taking over the center-right sector with higher voting potential and less rejection from the average Spanish voter.

As regards the coalitions around Podemos, they are already exploring strategies that may have a nationwide impact - the short path of a young party was not exempt from conflicts and disagreements - while the crucially difficult situation was left to PSOE since the beginning of the electoral process. As the natural political replacement for PP in the presidency, PSOE finds itself between a rock and a hard place in this new multipartisan scenario: it either allies with Podemos under uncomfortable conditions, such as the acceptance of regional referendums, and risks its position as the leading left-wing party versus a fresher, more promising party like Podemos, or it finds the necessary excuses to negotiate with its eternal rival, PP, maintaining power in the hands of the guards of bipartisanship in a rather unorthodox way.

PSOE's current situation, internally incapable of agreeing on a strategy after the fiasco in the first election, evinces the internal breach ever since Pedro Sanchez was chosen to lead and represent the party in this election. The current picture, after two electoral attempts to form a government, confirms the missed opportunity by this party to produce true renewal and launch a candidate capable of fostering the necessary trust and taking on the responsibility of uniting the opposition, even accepting the challenge of allowing the independence consultations (Catalonia and Basque country, for example) at the end of its eventual term of coalition and reconstruction. To expect these types of policies to take place during the government of PP with all its historical meaning and usual frame working, would secure Spain and Mariano Rajoy the same fate UK and David Cameron recently met due to the BREXIT.

What has been seen within the current political scenario after the two failed elections in Spain, is a political system on the brink, nourished by the shocking personalities of the leaders of these parties: Mariano Rajoy (PP), Pedro Sanchez (PSOE), Pablo Iglesias (Podemos) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos). One could surely ask oneself, in the event a third election is held in less than a year, whether it is unreasonable to demand exemplary democratic behavior from these parties by presenting new candidates. Otherwise, if they keep acting like the kings of their own parties, these same candidates may generate the same circumstances which may later lead the public opinion to ask King Philip VI himself to take on the responsibility of leading a new transition after almost forty years.
In Brazil, the democratic failure was materialized by an impeachment process which deposed a president who hadn't committed a crime that could warrant such decision. Dilma Rousseff lost power during this process but surprisingly Congress allowed her to keep her political rights. This is a legal unconstitutional precedent that may benefit future indicted politicians who commit real political crimes. However, during the same week of condemnation, the shifting budgetary maneuvers on which the prosecution of the crime was based, though practiced by former governments, were specifically sanctioned by the same Congress. Apart from these democratic deviations, there is clear evidence of political interests capable of shifting power and freezing large anticorruption operations.

Brazil's political crisis does not have an expiration date and the current government led by Michel Temer, a politician banned from running for election by the Superior Electoral Court after being prosecuted for electoral crimes, is already taking its first steps: privatization plans (which will affect water and oil resources among others) and the acceptance of laxer labor laws, for example, 12-hour workdays (we should remember that, in Sweden, reforms are aimed at reducing the workday to 6 hours).

While on one side of the Atlantic, holding a third election may lead to a political collapse in Spain, on the other side there is an urgent need to have an early election so a legitimate government may re-direct Brazil's political life. Until then, we will all keep an eye on regional elections that will soon be held in both countries and which could mark the future trend.