There’s no doubt that Rajoy has a clear mandate to govern. After yesterday’s big win, his party holds the biggest concentration of power ever in democratic-era Spain: it won at the national level, and following the regional and local elections in May of this year, it also governs 14 out of 17 regions, as well as all the big cities but a handful. So it’s clear that he’s got what is needed to start applying his program without any allies, but will he want to? Should he?
There’s an almost overwhelming challenge ahead for Spain’s prime minister-elect in order to put the number one 1 priority above anything else — the country’s economy — back on track: restore market confidence and enact the sorely needed reforms to turn a sclerotic system with little flexibility and low productivity into a much more open, agile, and transparent economy that starts growing again and is able to create employment. There have been lots of missed opportunities and broken promises in the last few years, and now is the moment when decisive action is needed, including very painful measures. Right now. And it’s unclear whether Rajoy (who wasn’t too specific during the campaign, presumably in order not to scare voters as David Cameron did in the UK when he started detailing his policies) or anyone else in his position will be able to pull it off. Rajoy seems to be very aware of this, and in his victory speech on election night told his supporters: “Don’t expect any miracles; I didn’t promise any.”
But the biggest priority is going ahead with the reforms while minimizing the chances of generating widespread protests on the streets in order to prevent a worrisome situation from descending directly into chaos, which certainly wouldn’t help the country regain stability. For that reason, it’s vital to prevent the usual temptation of Spanish Socialists to ride the wave of discontent by supporting, even encouraging, any protest movement against their rivals (many of you will probably remember what happened with the Prestige oil spill or the Iraq war). That’s why, even if the PP has the mandate to act on its own, there’s still a chance Rajoy could coax his opponents by handing one or two cabinet seats to the Socialist party, and even one to the moderate Catalan nationalists. This would at least deactivate the opposition, build a bigger support for the unavoidable measures that need to be taken, and reduce the chance of the PP’s rivals trying to exploit the presumable backlash that these measures will bring to their favor. Plus, the rumors were flying in Spain the week before the election that there might be an unofficial request for an agreed “stealth rescue” by the EU, the BCE and the FMI.
The next few days are going to be extraordinarily important. According to Spanish election law, under normal circumstances it would still take one full month from today to complete the transfer of power: once the new parliament is inaugurated, it votes in the new prime minister, and he and his cabinet members are sworn in. There’s a growing chorus, even among the left, that given that the country is in a state of emergency, and that the PP majority grants Rajoy the nomination with no possible alternatives, the process should be sped up. That would reduce the “interregnum” and allow Rajoy to start sending a signal to the world and the financial markets that things have changed in the country.
Let’s hope it’s not too late.