From “democratic fraud” to “pucherazo”, going through “purchase of wills” or “tamayazo”. The controversial vote on the labor reform, last Thursday in Congress, has unleashed an intense political storm and a crossroads of accusations of unusual gravity, even within the current climate of growing polarization, as political analysts warn.
The tension experienced in the Hemicycle, which soon moved to the rallies in the middle of the campaign in Castilla y León and has even reached the courts, is nothing more than the latest episode in a “very dangerous drift” started years ago and leading to “increasingly accelerated discrediting of institutions”, as explained to RTVE.es by the political scientist Pablo Simón.
For the political scientist and sociologist Cristina Monge, what happened “confirms that deeply rooted perception that institutions are something far removed from society, that politicians do not live in the real world and argue in a cage of crickets“. As this feeling of distance increases, disaffection with politics grows, especially high in Spain since the 2008 crisis.
According to the latest Eurobarometer data, 90% of Spaniards do not trust politics, 15 points above the European average. In a country traditionally with less political participation than its neighbors -although with a high electoral participation-, the figures have been worsening in the last decade, as has the image that politicians have. The politics is the main problem for citizens, if the four categories into which the CIS divides this question are added. 48.5% respond in this way according to the latest barometer from the demographic institute, numbers rarely achieved before in a democracy.
Disaffection, a breeding ground for anti-politics
This growing distrust can lead, on the one hand, to “greater abstention”, according to the political scientist and consultant in political communication Eduardo Bayón, although that is most unlikely in Spain, a country that “likes to vote”according to Monge, and where the level of voting is usually higher than in neighboring democracies such as Portugal or France, which beat a historical abstention rate of 66% in the last regional elections -in Spain, it stood at 35% in the last regional elections from 2019-.
The other consequence of alienation from citizenship is the “emergence of anti-political discourses”adds Bayon. For the sociologist and also a professor at the University of Zaragoza, “anti-politics is a product of politics”, and she warns that “anti-political arguments usually go hand in hand with very undemocratic political approaches”.
“Anti-politics is a product of politics“
In general, Spain shows a great support for the democratic system, 85%, according to the CIS, and before 2008, it was only slightly below the European average in trust in institutions such as Parliament or parties. In the aftermath of the crisis, however, this confidence suffered “brutal fall”, Simon explains.
The “most symptomatic”, according to the analyst, is that confidence does not recover with economic improvement, as it happened in other countries hit by the recession, such as Greece, and remains far from European standards. In addition, the political scientist from the Carlos III University regrets that recovering this confidence is not even on the agenda of the parties. “Politicians don’t even know they’re sleeping on a volcano”sentence.
In 2011, in the worst of the economic crisis, the criticism of the institutions led to a great social mobilization, the 15M. Can something like this happen now? For Monge, a specialist in that movement, the disaffection now shows signs of going in the opposite direction: “The passivity and not the indignation”.
“Politicians don’t even know they’re sleeping on a volcano“
Should social mobilization resurface, it will probably I would do it on the right sideaccording to Gonzalo Velasco, a political analyst at Fundación Alternativas, especially with the left now in power and in the context of a “radical right-wing wave sweeping the entire European continent and coming from the United States.”
From the motion of censure to the pandemic: an incessant escalation
If the legitimacy crisis began in 2008, Bayón points to the 2018 motion of censure that gave power to Pedro Sánchez as a determining point in the escalation of tension. The PP was “infected by the radicalism of Vox, points out the expert, and questioned the legitimacy of the Government and even of the very formula of the motion. At that time, Casado branded Sánchez an “illegitimate president” and Abascal called the socialist’s investiture in January 2020 “fraudulent.”
According to Velasco, it is a “risk” to go from criticizing the political adversary to doing so to the “referee”, to democratic functioning itself. The level of tension that was reached in 2019, with two general elections and the difficulty of reaching agreements between the two parties that now make up the Government, could have had a truce with the arrival of the pandemic, but it was very short.
“The pandemic was an opportunity. It was a shock external to the political system, something important enough to think that the dynamic could be changed, to switch to a collaboration logic”Simon points out. However, beyond the first days, the politicians did not take advantage of that moment and continued with serious accusations on account of the 8M demonstration, the deaths in the residences or the application of the state of alarm.
The problem, continues the political scientist, is that the parties they do not find incentives to get out of the logic of permanent confrontation, since in a multiparty and volatile context, “All politicians are afraid, because they see that many votes move in all directions and play the card of confrontation.” This is an especially useful card, since few things bring a group together more than criticizing the opposite, he points out.
Bayón agrees that the arrival of new parties – first Podemos and Ciudadanos, then Vox and now the candidacies of the emptied Spain – has a clear effect on those who previously occupied their political space. “They feel threatened because they lose electoral weight and are much more likely to fall into these dynamics”either to differentiate themselves from their competitors or to attract voters who can change their vote, he argues.
When polarization reaches citizenship: the mirror of the US
That politicians have different visions and confront them is not strange, continues Simón. “The problem is that these ideological positions are filtered in what we call affective polarization, that is to say, that it ends up causing the voters of one party to reject the voters of another”, he warns.
The mirror in which Spain looks is that of the United States, where polarization reached extremes at the end of former President Trump’s mandate, and with the accusations of fraud that he poured on the electoral victory of his successorDemocrat Joe Biden. Affective polarization can lead to “much more visceral dynamics”: “If it is perpetuated all the time that the choice is not legitimate, why not take up arms on my own to overthrow the government?”exposes the analyst.
Monge clearly sees the link between the assault on the Washington Capitol, which was recently completed a year ago, with what happened with the assault on Lorca’s plenary session. “Things were said like ‘you’re lazy, we’re going to kill you, it’s identical to the Capitol”compare.
In Spain, the levels of political violence experienced in the United States have not been reached in recent years, but there have been low-intensity political conflicts, according to Simón. It refers, for example, to the last elections in Madrid, where a Vox rally culminated in riots, more than 30 injured and four arrested, or the attack on the headquarters of United We Can in Cartagena. “Those kinds of things do not operate on a vacuum, they come from political speeches. It is a slope that the political leaders do not realize that once you start going down it is very easy to end up falling downhill, “he maintains.
Recover consensus: the key to get out of the dynamics of polarization
To deal with this drift, Simón proposes starting with “the minimum, which is the reconstruction of a common languagethat is, that politicians build a consensus on which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, with which issues it is immoral to oppose, etc.”
He cites, for example, the consensus that there was on gender violence and that now it is “complicated to reconstruct when actors against those consensuses arise”, in reference to Vox. Monge, for his part, sees it necessary “isolate all those parties with authoritarian values and anti-political overtones”, and affirms that at this moment the formation of Santiago Abascal is the only one with these characteristics in Spain. He insists that he is not in favor of a cordon sanitaire for specific parties, but for “attitudes that threaten democratic coexistence.”
In addition, it summons politics as a whole to “do a very important analysis of what image it is conveying to the public and change that chip so that the control sessions in Congress stop being what they are, a boorish spectacle”. The succession of electoral campaigns that has been experienced since 2019 has not helped greater temperance, Bayón points out – two generals, autonomous in Galicia, Euskadi, Catalonia, Madrid and now Castilla y León and predictably Andalusia.
Beyond the need for a change of attitude on the part of politicians, Simón also points out to the media, and asks “to put the emphasis on the common, beyond the morbidity of the conflict”because, he assures, society and the parties are much more often in agreement on the substance of the debates -such as the consensus on masks or vaccines- than is implied in the press.
In addition, analysts agree, the role of civil society is essential to motivate this change in dynamics. Monge warns of a “certain passivity” on his part, but believes that he can give examples of consensus that are lacking in politics. “An example to the contrary has been given by unions and employers with the agreement of the labor reform. There civil society has been able to reach an agreement that later in parliamentary headquarters became a grotesque. There he was up to the task, “he concludes.