The legitimation crisis of the Rajoy government signals a qualitative shift in Spain compared to when the indignados burst onto the scene last year.
In recent appearances on RT, I’ve made the claim that the legitimacy of Mariano Rajoy’s government is “eroding rapidly”. It’s a claim I’m not taking lightly, because I think it signals a qualitative change in the Spanish social context relative to where we were just over a year ago, when the indignados burst onto the political scene. Since then, elections have taken place, governing parties have changed, austerity packages are growing increasingly more radical, micro-bailouts have been approved and police repression has increased significantly.
To make matters worse, corruption scandals abound in all branches of government, from the regional legislatures right on up to the judiciary and the monarchy. While the King’s son in law was talking to his lawyers about the millions he misused in public funds through his Noos Institute, His Majesty and honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund Juan Carlos I was using taxpayer euros to hunt elephants in Botswana and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Carlos Divar was blowing it on 32 long weekends in the resort towns of Marbella on the southern coast.
As all this was happening, hundreds of thousands of people in Spain were being laid off or kicked out of their homes. Others were being deported or having ten-year blocks put on their life savings, their pensions ransacked. The rest were seeing their kids’ education budgets slashed, their health care rights privatized, their unemployment pay reduced and the sales tax hiked up to 21%. Such is the divide between the kleptocrats at the top and the people below them today. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Forty years ago, Spain was under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the Catholic Church and the landed aristocracy. After his death and several years of social conflict, an agreement or social pact was reached and codified in the Constitution of 1978. The basis of this social pact was expressed in Article 1, which, as Guillem Martínez explains in El País, defined the Spanish state as a “‘social and democratic state under the rule of law,’ such that if the state ceases to be social, it also ceases to be democratic and under the rule of law…Welfare, then, is not just some economic surplus but a right of the people and a duty of the state.”
That welfare is the basis of the social pact upon which the Constitution was written is an observable social fact. As demonstrated in a recent study by Fundación Alternativas and thoughtfully explained by the folks at Politikon.es, voters across the political spectrum (including conservative Partido Popular voters) share nearly identical and favourable views on the universal right to health care, education, unemployment pay and pensions. Yet it is this social pact that has been violated with every austerity package passed by the Rajoy government and the ‘socialist’ Zapatero’s before.
The fact that this social pact has been broken is becoming increasingly clear even according to traditional measures of legitimacy. In his seminal book, The Legitimation of Power, social theorist David Beetham argues that legitimacy depends on three factors: conformity to established rules, justifiability of the rules by reference to shared beliefs, and the expressed consent of the people.
So when we say that the legitimacy of the Spanish government is eroding rapidly, we are saying that we know that politicians and bankers are not conforming to the established rules. We see that each branch of government, including the monarchy, is caught up in the misuse of public funds, while bankers are using what’s left to buy up toxic assets.
We are saying that 200 police officers being written up for refusing their orders to assault protestors is evidence of the fact that peoples’ basic constitutional rights, those shared beliefs that are the foundation of a functioning democracy, are under attack to an extent that undermines the justifiability of the government’s rules.
We are saying that the 30 percent of the voting population who opted to put Rajoy in office is hardly a broad enough consensus to continue to push austerity through, especially when only 26 percent of those Partido Popular voters trust Rajoy to get Spain through the crisis, the party has broken practically every campaign promise they made, and 82 percent of the general population agrees with the protestors who took the streets last Thursday.
On July 11th, Rep. Andrea Fabra, the daughter of Carlos Fabra, a prominent businessman and member of the Partido Popular who is currently under investigation for corruption, responded to her party’s approval of a severe cut to unemployment pay with enthusiasm. “Qué se jodan!” she shouted at the unemployed, which means, “Fuck’em!” A video of her outburst went viral almost immediately, sparking protests in front of Partido Popular headquarters all over the country.
In a situation like this, it should come as no surprise that we are no longer talking about a peaceful indignados movement taking the streets to point out society’s ills. As police chased firemen, police officers, teachers, doctors, state employees, immigrants, students, parents, children and unemployed people through the streets of Madrid on July 19th, their rubber bullets were answered by stones and flower pots being thrown from the balconies of neighborhood residents.
Last year, millions of us came together to declare that they do not represent us. But it took the Partido Popular to get us to say, “Que se jodan ellos.” Fuck them. It may not be pretty, but it’s where we’re at today.