Spaniards, Exhausted by Politics, Warm to Life Without a Government
MADRID — For the past 288 days, Spain has plodded along without an elected national government. For some Spaniards, this is a wonderful thing.
“No government, no thieves,” said Félix Pastor, a language teacher who, like many voters, is fed up with the corruption and scandals that tarnished the two previous governing parties.
Mr. Pastor, a wiry, animated 59-year-old, said Spain could last without a government “until hell freezes over” because politicians were in no position to do more harm.
After two grueling national elections in six months, and with a third vote possible in December, no party has won enough seats or forged the coalition needed to form a government. For the first time in Spain’s four decades as a modern democracy, this country of 47 million people has a caretaker government.
That has produced an unprecedented public spectacle: Politicians scheme and plot but reject the difficult compromises needed to form a government. Voters watch ruefully with a mix of fascination and contempt.
On Saturday, the Socialists’ leader, Pedro Sánchez, stepped down in a move that could open the way for his party to agree to the re-election of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and a government led by his conservative Popular Party.
But while the Socialists’ revolt could break the deadlock, it may do little to heal Spaniards’ frustration with a crisis that has further eroded their faith in politicians.
Spain’s leaders warned that having no government would mean chaos and deprivation. Instead, more than anything, the crisis seems to have offered a glimpse of life if politicians simply stepped out of the way. For many here, it has not been all that bad.
“Spain would be just fine if we got rid of most of the politicians and three-fourths of government employees,” Rafael Navarro, 71, said inside his tiny storefront pharmacy in Madrid. Too little government is better than too much, he said.
In some ways, this is a phantom crisis for ordinary Spaniards. There has been no United States-style government shutdown. There are no mounds of uncollected garbage, no unpaid police officers, no shuttered ministries, no public trains or buses halted.
Budget money is still flowing. Government ministries are functioning. Social service recipients and civil servants are being paid. Even if no new government has been formed when the 2016 national budget expires this fall, the old budget will simply become the new budget for 2017.
But government is paralyzed in other ways. Nobody is proposing legislation, debating international affairs or even rotating Spain’s ambassadors. Funding for many infrastructure and government projects is frozen. And nationalist movements in Catalonia and the Basque region continue to roil national politics.
Spain has been in political limbo since last October, when Mr. Rajoy called a general election while he held a parliamentary majority. His Popular Party then won the most votes in December and June, but did not win a majority. It now holds 137 of the 350 seats in Parliament.
The stalemate has come at an opportune moment. After a severe recession ended in 2013, Spain’s economy rebounded. Growth is forecast to be 2.9 percent this year, almost twice the 1.6 percent eurozone average expected by the European Commission. Interest and energy rates are at historic lows.
Spain, a tourism superpower, expects 74 million visitors this year, six million more than last year, as terrorism fears elsewhere send visitors here. Cafes and museums are crowded, and hotels are booked solid.
But after trudging to the polls twice already in the last year, weary voters are in no mood to vote again. The political calendar dictates a vote on Christmas if no agreement to form a government can be reached by Oct. 31.
The impasse has dragged on so long that “it’s like ‘Groundhog Day’ every day,” said Pedro Rodríguez, an assistant professor of international relations at a private university in Madrid.
Until the recent and chaotic revolt within the Socialist Party, said Nacho Cardero, the editor of El Confidencial, a news website, reader clicks on stories about the crisis had dropped steadily.
“People are exhausted,” Mr. Cardero said. “They don’t want to hear one more thing from these politicians.”
Spaniards were hopeful for better government in December, after two new parties, for the first time, won a third of the seats in Parliament. That set off a political free-for-all because no single party has been able to muster a majority.
Nine months later, many voters complain that the new parties have adopted the same cynical and corrosive politics practiced under the entrenched two-party system.