By Julian Nazar, Pearl Foreign Correspondent
Julian is studying abroad in Granada, Spain
Mariano Rajoy, a member of the moderate-right Partido Popular (PP), was elected as Prime Minister of Spain for a second term in the 2016 general election. In the years that followed, his tenure had been marred with corruption scandals. The situation worsened to such an extent that all the parties on both sides of the political spectrum came to an agreement to replace Rajoy with Pedro Sanchez, a member of PSOE. However, PSOE, a moderate-left party, didn’t have sufficient seats in the government necessary to implement its agenda. In order to have an absolute majority, the magic number of seats is 176. PSOE needed to forge alliances with other parties in order to capture the necessary number of seats. So, Pedro Sanchez was faced with the uncomfortable option of having to negotiate with the separatist Cataluña parties. Unsurprisingly, this decision was not received well by everyone. A huge demonstration was organized in Madrid last weekend by three major parties on the opposite side of the aisle: the center-right Ciudadanos, moderate-right Partido Popular and far-right VOX.
In almost a month’s time, Spain will be holding general elections to determine which party will control the government. Being pressured from all sides, Pedro Sanchez recently announced elections would be taking place in Spain on April 28. To get a stronger grasp of the gravity of this moment in Spanish society as well as the key issues at play, I interviewed three Spaniards with three distinct backgrounds. The following interviews have been condensed and from Spanish to English.
Rafael Vazquez Garcia is a professor of political science at Centro Lenguas Modernas (CLM) in Granada. He is 40 years old and he has been a political scientist for over 20 years.
JN: What is the most important issue in Spain today?
RVQ: A couple months ago, a national survey determined that most Spaniards were concerned about unemployment and economic problems. In recent time, issues arising from Cataluña independence and Spanish national identity are becoming more relevant.
JN: Two weeks ago, there was a big protest organized in Madrid by what is considered the right-leaning parties. In your opinion, what does this protest mean in the larger context of Spanish society?
RVQ: A problem is appearing that wasn’t public before but had previously appeared in other forms. Spain, in its recent past, had overlooked the question of national identity. We can now see through the reaction towards independence parties, the rise of VOX, and the increasingly nationalist Partido Popular (PP) that there exists a great degree of nationalist sentiment in Spain. Therefore, in the upcoming elections, I would say citizens will vote along identity lines more so than economic questions. This election will revolve around questions of national identity.
JN:Based on the polls you have seen as well as recent developments, what do you believe will happen in the upcoming elections?
RVQ: My prediction is that PSOE is going to win the most seats. All the polls indicate this result. The main reason I believe this will happen is because I am of the belief that Spaniards recognize the importance of historical security and avoiding internal conflict. Given that the memory of Franco still lingers in the minds of many people, I think this will ultimately push people away from radical parties and towards moderates. Moreover, it is quite possible that PSOE will take votes away from Ciudadanos since they have become more radicalized. At the same time, by voting for moderates, Spaniards are picking the safer option as opposed to gambling on the uncertainty that comes from voting for radical parties.
Samuel Nunez Gonzalez is a student at the University of Granada. He is 19 years old and is studying sociology.
JN: How do you explain the rise of VOX in Spain? What do you attribute it to?
SNG: It comes from a movement that began in Europe from the far right. It began with Austria and Italy. In Spain, we may say that it arose from certain situations. First and foremost, the economic crisis in 2008 caused much discontent in Spanish society and as a result, nationalist sentiment began growing.
Secondly, another important factor is immigration. Due to Spain’s geographical proximity to Africa, recently, we have been receiving many African immigrants. One could say this has exposed a hatred and racism present within Spanish society towards such individuals that has been exploited and communicated by VOX with its ideas to build a wall in order to stop immigrants coming into the country.
Lastly, nationalistic sentiment has strengthened due to the situation in Cataluña. Cataluña is an autonomous community that wants independence from Spain and therefore, carried out a referendum that was maybe unconstitutional. This paved the way towards the nationalism we see today that calls for Spanish unity. I believe these are the three fundamental factors.
JN: In your opinion, what impact does immigration have on the general Spanish community?
SNG: In Spain, we are in a demographic crisis. Fewer children are being born and there are many older people. Moreover, there are fewer available workers. In a couple of year, it will become a very worrying situation because there will be older people that will be unable to sustain the population. In this sense, immigration maybe can have positive effects. Specifically, immigration can help create employment as well as regulate the median age in Spain.
On the other hand, it can have negative effects. Principally, cultural effects like cultural conflicts and the rise of VOX as I mentioned before. Also, businesses take advantage of the desperate situation of immigrants by lowering their salaries, exploiting their labor, and this will give rise to unregistered jobs. At the end of the day, it is the underground economy.
JN: What is the significance of this current political moment in the history of Spain?
SNG: Right now, we are in a crucial moment. Principally, I would say when we talk about these social issues we often neglect the fact that these problems wouldn’t exist if the planet does not exist. We are in a moment of serious climate change where we need cooperation between the biggest countries and governments to fight against this problem. Without this cooperation, there won’t be a planet. Without a planet, there is no society and thus, politics would cease to exist. What is required is cooperation that many times can be very complicated but this doesn’t remove responsibility from countries like France, Germany and Spain. One could say that the environment matters to left-leaning parties more so than right-leaning parties. Therefore, I believe this moment is very important.
Francisco Ocete Guzman is a recently- retired business man. He is 60 years old and was an autonomous business man for 39 years.
JN: How has Spanish politics affected your life?
FOG: As an autonomous business man, it’s been all negative. Politicians on both sides do not do anything for small and medium-sized businesses. For example, if you have six workers employed, you do not have a right to anything. However, if you have more than six workers employed, you are considered a superior business and are given government assistance. In my opinion, not a single political party that has ever governed Spain has helped medium and small-sized businesses.
JN: Why do you believe this is the case?
FOG: I am not sure. It seems they only help businesses that give more jobs to young people.
JN: What type of governmental assistance would you like to receive?
FOG: The same type of assistance that they are giving immigrants right now. That being free healthcare and unemployment benefits. Right now, autonomous businessmen, like myself, do not have a right to these things.
JN:What do you hope happens in the upcoming elections?
FOG: I personally hope there is no majority in the government. When this happens, it’s better for everyone. The reason being is that political parties are forced to compromise with other parties. That’s the ideal scenario. In contrast, when there is a majority party in control, it does whatever it wants. And that is never good for a country.