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From solar tax to forming a government, Spanish politics has yet to see the light


Madrid: In his restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean seo at Mataró, a few miles north of Barcelona, Ricard Jornet declares himself an insumiso, a rebel refusing to pay pay a so-called “tax on sunshine” for an award-winning solar power installation that allows his business to function almost exclusively off sunlight, as reported by The Guardian.

One of several rebels refusing to pay ‘anti-ecological tax on self-produced electricity’ , Jornet said “I think they did it deliberately to protect the electricity companies, knowing that it would hold up the installation of solar power in Spain for another few years… we are not going to pay.”

Jornet had hoped that, since all other parties oppose the law and the PP won just 29% of the December vote, a new government would rapidly overturn it. The said tax was pushed through by the conservative People’s party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy a few weeks before elections in December. At those elections, Spaniards smashed the status quo by backing two insurgent parties, the anti-austerity Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos, to create an unusually fractured parliament.

They wanted something new to replace the antagonistic, all-or-nothing attitude of a two-party system dominated by the PP and the Socialists (PSOE) that also generated a ceaseless flow of corruption scandals. Instead they got gridlock, with politicians both old and new incapable of forming a government.

On Monday, the deadline for reaching a power-sharing deal passed, and another round of elections must now be held in June. Yet a second, expensive round of campaigning may change very little, with polls predicting similar results.

In a complex situation, the blame game has already started triggering protests and predictions from across. Forming a government required agreements between parties that were far apart on one or both of the twin axes of Spanish politics, which run from left to right and – with Catalonia and other regions in mind – from centralist to separatist.

However, one thing is clear. The left did not seek a potential opportunity govern. The price to pay may be another four years of Rajoy and German-imposed austerity. So much for Podemos’s promised “assault on heaven”.

The left’s mistakes have been numerous. Chief among them has been the rivalry between the parties. Podemos wants to oust the communist-led United Left (IU) and the socialists (PSOE) as the left’s leading force. The fight to achieve – or resist – that has proved more important than the one to oust Rajoy.

Despite pacts with other left-wing formations in Catalonia and Galicia, Podemos did not ally with the IU. This split the far-left vote and, under Spain’s provincial-based electoral system, meant that IU’s million voters were awarded just two out of 350 deputies. Had the two parties stood together, they would have won up to 14 extra seats and forming a government of the left would have been far easier.

That such an electoral coalition was always possible looks set to be proved this week, as the two parties prepare to form one for June. With Podemos showing signs of flagging in the polls this may come too late, even if they jointly overtake the Socialists.

Any leftwing government was always bound to be led by Pedro Sánchez of the socialits. He had taken his party to one of its worst results ever, but still had the most deputies on the left.

Assembling such a leftwing coalition always looked difficult, but not impossible. A linkup with Podemos required the added backing of the IU but also, via abstentions or active support, that of Catalan and Basque separatists and nationalists. Some of those are rightwing.

The negotiations of the past four months seem like a game played with the sole intention of achieving pole position in the next electoral grand prix. Demand of Spain’s voters for a coalitions, were ignored.

While the politicians play games, Spain’s economic problems remain serious. The country is poorer than it was nine years ago, and one in five workers are without a job.

Voters are right to insist on a split parliament. Negotiated, cross-party deals are exactly what Spain needs to tackle corruption and discover long-term strategies to bolster snailish growth.

The new “tax on sunshine” reflects both the legislative excesses of an absolute majority and the absurdity of an electricity system made overly expensive by the backwards-and-forwards tinkering of previous governments of all colours. Rajoy claims it prevents poorer consumers who cannot afford solar panels from footing the bill for that.

Exactly what Spain does with its abundant sunshine, as it struggles to help combat climate change, is just one matter that needs long-term planning. Everything from the country’s under-performing education system – where schools must adapt to new curriculum laws with every change of government – to a looming pensions crisis also require agreements across existing political boundaries.

So long as Spanish politicians prove incapable of forming governments or passing legislation, they cannot really claim to represent voters. In the meantime, Jornet and others will continue to rebel. As the saying goes, “no taxation without representation”.

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