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The New European Politics
The Shoe on the Other Foot

Spain faces do-over elections after a deadlock after the last one (held in December) left any party unable to form a coalition. But the ruling Conservatives think they have a strategy to break the deadlock—one that seems to come out of the old Continental center-left playbook. Politico.eu reports:

The strategy being rolled out by Rajoy’s conservatives breaks with his People’s Party concentrated assault on Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in December’s elections. Rajoy came in first then but lost his majority, causing a political stalemate that failed to produce a governing coalition and resulted in the first repeat elections in modern Spanish history, which are scheduled for June 26.

Now he wants to win back conservatives who defected to the up-and-coming party Ciudadanos (Citizens), the pro-business group which came fourth after the PP, the Socialists and Podemos. Since December’s vote, Podemos has forged an electoral coalition with Alberto Garzón’s communist-led United Left that could push the PSOE into third place.

“Our country is facing a new crossroads,” says Rajoy in a new campaign video that sets the tone for the coming campaign. The video contrasts “the hope of moderate Spain” with the emergence of “an extremist alternative” which, Rajoy says, is a threat to national unity, constitutional democracy and Spain’s economic progress.

“If we don’t want Podemos to rule the country, the PP is the useful vote,” Pablo Casado, one of party’s communication chiefs, told a rally this weekend.

The European centre-left long ago realized that if it could force the voters to choose between itself and a populist, demagogic right-wing party, rather than the center-right, it would most often win. Ben Domenech has described this dynamic well:

In the 2002 French presidential election, fascist-style populist Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second in the first round of voting, meaning the French electorate had to choose between him and Jacques Chirac, a statist-right bureaucrat who never saw an individual liberty he didn’t want to slightly curtail. Voters recoiled from expressions of racism and fascistic xenophobia, and gave Chirac the largest majority of any French head of state in history. The next French presidential election is in 2017, and there is a very good chance that the 2002 scenario will repeat itself, with Jean-Marie’s daughter Marine Le Pen getting into the runoff (she has sought to increase her chances in part by forcing her father out). Between Francois Hollande and Le Pen, most decent people go for Hollande. For others, when neither major centrist party will prioritize or even acknowledge the problems faced by a people confronted by massive and troublesome issues of immigration and ethnic tension, eventually they feel they have no choice but to protest vote for Le Pen.

It’s interesting to see voters forced into this position vis-a-vis a populist-left, rather than populist-right, party. And it may be paying off. Politico again:

The polarizing strategy could benefit both the PP and Podemos by portraying them as the only alternatives, which would lure tactical votes from Ciudadanos and PSOE supporters, said Lluis Orriols, politics professor at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

A poll by Metroscopia published in Sunday’s El País newspaper showed PP’s support rising to 29.9 percent from 28.7 percent in the December elections, and the Podemos-IU coalition second with 23.2 percent of voter intentions — while the Socialists were seen falling to 20.2 percent from 22 percent in the last elections. Ciudadanos, in fourth place, rose to 15.5 percent from 13.9.

But just as the center-left and center-right have much in common, so too do the populist-left and the populist right. (This is particularly true in Europe, but you wouldn’t be wrong to pick up echoes in the U.S. these days, with Donald making overtures to Bernie’s supporters, and Hillary to horrified establishment Republicans.)

If Rajoy’s maneuver is successful, then it could accelerate the movement toward what we’ve called a new pan-European politics, where a consensus, pro-Brussels centrist party routinely dukes it out with a populist, anti-austerity, (soft-) euroskeptic party.

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