Spanish Parliament Debates No Confidence Vote On Caretaker Government

Aug 30, 2016
Originally published on August 30, 2016 6:24 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

During this long U.S. election season, some Americans might look longingly across the Atlantic to the shorter campaigns they have in Europe. In parliamentary systems, campaigns typically take weeks, not months or years. There are exceptions, though, and right now Spain is one of them. It's had two inconclusive elections and may be in for a third, and no legislation has passed there in nearly a year. Lauren Frayer has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's after dark, and friends are sitting cross-legged in the grass in Madrid's Retiro Park, singing a love song to their city as the hundred-degree heat finally begins to recede. But when a foreign reporter walks up asking about politics, the end of summer real world comes crashing in.

SONYA FRIZZI: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We've reached the point where we don't care. We don't trust any politicians anymore," says Sonya Frizzi, a college student. Her friend Merjelina Gomez interrupts.

MERJELINA GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "People are fed up. We voted twice, but our politicians can't compromise," she says. "And now we might have to vote again. It's ridiculous."

Spain has had no elected government since last December. Two elections have failed to yield a clear winner, and if the acting prime minister fails a confidence vote in parliament this week, there will be yet another. And for constitutional reasons, that election would fall on December 25, Christmas Day.

GABRIELA BUSTELO: Political columnist have had to be writing political columns during all these nine months, and we're just going nuts. I mean it's like (laughter) we don't even know what to say anymore.

FRAYER: Gabriela Bustelo is a columnist for the Spanish web magazine Vox Populi. Over coffee at a Madrid cafe, she explains how compromise is particularly difficult here in Spain where the right and left fought a civil war in the 1930s and still haven't fully gotten over it.

BUSTELO: The hatred between the right and the left in Spain, instead of getting better, at some points, it seems to get worse, whereas you go to the United States and you see marriages between Republicans and Democrats. In Spain, there really is a huge amount of prejudice between the right and the left.

FRAYER: Add to that the emergence of two new political parties, and parliament is now split four ways. That's never happened before in Spain's 38 years of democracy, says Federico Santi, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in London. I reached him on Skype.

FEDERICO SANTI: When you look at other countries in which, you know, they are more used to this - again, Germany being a good example of another parliamentary system - Italy, where, you know, coalition politics is really the norm - it took decades to get to that point. Whereas Spain, you know - this is really new. This is the first time that they're really forced to make these very difficult choices.

FRAYER: Meanwhile, without a government, public investment in Spain's infrastructure is on hold. So is the budget. Some Spanish embassies are left without ambassadors. But the economy is growing, and that's fuel for Spanish cynics. This country may be better off, they say, if the politicians were to just stay home. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.